MoboReader> Literature > From a Bench in Our Square

   Chapter 4 No.4

From a Bench in Our Square By Samuel Hopkins Adams Characters: 138897

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Summer was smiting Our Square with white-hot bolts of sun-fire, from which one could scarcely find refuge beneath the scraggly shelter of parched shrubbery, when one morning the Bonnie Lassie approached my bench with a fell and purposeful smile.

"Dominie, you're a dear old thing," she began in her most insinuating tones.

"I won't do it," I said determinedly, foreboding something serious.

The Bonnie Lassie raised her eyebrows at me, affecting aggrieved innocence. "Won't do what?" she inquired.

"Whatever it is that you're trying to wheedle me into."

The eyebrows resumed their normal arch, and a dimple flickered in the corner of the soft lips. By this I knew that the case was hopeless. "Oh, but you've already done it," she said.

"Help! Tell me the worst and get it over with."

"It must be lovely to be rich," said the Bonnie Lassie meditatively.

"And so generous!"

"How much is it? What do you want it for? I haven't got that much," I hastily remarked.

"And to keep it an absolute secret from everybody. Even from Mayme herself."

"Go on. Don't mind me," I murmured.

"The Little Red Doctor has found the place. It's in New Mexico. And in the fall she's going on to the Coast. He's almost willing to guarantee that a year of it will make her as strong as ever. And the hundred dollars a month you allow her besides her traveling expenses will be plenty. You are a good old thing, Dominie!"

"What you mean is that I'm an old good-thing. How shall I look," I demanded bitterly, "when Mayme comes to thank me?"

"No foolisher than you do now, trying to raise unreasonable objections to our perfectly good plans," retorted the Bonnie Lassie. "Besides, she won't. She knows that your way is to do good by stealth and blush to find it fame, and she's under pledge to pretend to know nothing about it."

"Where did the Little Red Doctor raise it?" I queried.

"There are times, Dominie, when your mind has real penetrative power.

Think it over."

"The Weeping Scion of Wealth and Position!" I cried. "Did our medical friend blackmail him?"

"Not necessarily. He only dropped a hint that Mayme's chance here was rather poorer than a soldier's going to war, unless something could be done and the Weeping Scion fairly begged to be allowed to do it. 'Do you think she'd take it from you?' said the Little Red Doctor, 'after what your mother called her?' 'Don't let her know,' says our ornamental young weeper. 'Tell her somebody else is doing it. Tell her it's from that white-whiskered old-from the elderly and handsome gentleman with the benevolent expres-'"

"Yes: I know," I broke in. "Very good. I'm the goat. Lying, hypocrisy, false pretense, fake charity; it's all one to a sin-seared old reprobate like me. After it's over I'll go around the corner and steal what pennies I can find in Blind Simon's cup, just to make me feel comparatively respectable and decent again."

It was no easier than I expected it to be, especially when little Mayme, having come to say good-bye, put her lips close to my ear and tried to whisper something, and cried and kissed me instead.

Our Square was a dimmer and duller place after she left. But her letters helped. They were so exactly like herself! Even at the first, when things seemed to be going ill with her, they were all courage, and quaint humor and determination to get well and come back to Our Square, which was the dearest and best place in the world with the dearest and best people in it. Homesickness! Poor little, lonely Mayme. She was reading-she wrote the Bonnie Lassie-all the books that the Dominie had listed for her, and she was being tutored by a school-teacher with blue goggles and a weak heart who lived at the same resort. "Why grow up a Boob," wrote the philosophic Mayme, "when the lil old world is full of wise guys just aking to spill their wiseness?"

Contemporaneously the Weeping Scion of Wealth was writing back his views on life and the emptiness thereof, in better orthography, but with distinctly less of spirit.

"It appears," reported the Little Red Doctor, "that every man in his own company has licked our young friend and now the other companies of the regiment are beginning to show interest, and he doesn't like it. I believe he'd desert if it weren't that he's afraid of what Mayme would think."

"Still on his mind, is she?" I asked.

The Little Red Doctor produced a letter with a camp postmark from the

South and read a passage:

"You were right when you guessed that I never wanted anything very much before, without having it handed to me. Perhaps you are right about its being good for me. But it comes hard. The promise goes, of course. I'm going to show you and her that I'm not yellow. [So that was still rankling; salutary, if bitter dose!] But if this war ever finishes, all bets are off and I'm coming back to find her. And don't you forget your part of the bargain, to write and let me know how she is getting on." The Little Red Doctor was able to send progressively encouraging news. When the cold weather came, Mayme moved westward to Southern California, and found herself on the edge of one of the strange, tumultuous, semi-insane moving-picture colonies of that region. Thence issued, presently, stirring tidings.

"What do you think?" wrote our exile. "They've got my funny little monkey mug in the movies. Five per and steady work. The director likes me and says he will give me a real chance one of these days. But, as the Dominie would say, this is a hell of a place. [Graceless imp!] I would not say it myself, because I am a perfect lady. You have to be, out here. That reminds me: I have cut out the Mayme. Every fresh little frizzle in the colony with a false front and a pneumatic figure calls herself Mayme or Daisye or Tootsye. Not for me! I am keeping up my lessons and trying to make my head good for something besides carrying a switch. Tell the Little Red Doctor that it is so long since I coughed I have forgotten how. And I love you all so hard that it hurts.

"Your loving

"MARY MCCARTNEY

"P.S. I am going to be Marie Courtenay when I get my name up in the pictures. Put that in the Directory and see how it looks.

"P.S.2. How is my soldier boy getting along? Poor kid! I expect he is finding it a lot different from Broadway with money in your pocket."

About this time the Weeping Scion was finding things very different, indeed, from Broadway, having been shifted to a specially wet and muddy section of France; and was taking them as he found them. That is to say, he had learned the prime lesson of war.

"And he's been made corporal," announced the Little Red Doctor with satisfaction.

"That sounds encouraging," remarked the Bonnie Lassie. "How did it happen?"

"He went over on one of the 'flu ships,' and when the epidemic began to mow 'em down there was a kind of panic. From what I can make out, the Scion kept his head and his nerve, and made good. A corporal's stripes aren't much, but they're something."

Better was to come. There was high triumph in the Little Red Doctor's expression when he came to my bench with the glad tidings of young David's promotion to a sergeantcy.

"While it's very gratifying," I remarked, "it doesn't seem to me an epoch-making event."

"Doesn't it!" retorted my friend. "That's because of your abysmal military ignorance, Dominie. Let me tell you how it is in our army. A fellow can get himself made a captain by pull, or a major by luck, or a colonel by desk-work, or a general by having a fine martial figure, but to get yourself made a sergeant, by Gosh, you've got to show the stuff. You've got to be a man. You've got to have-"

"Are you going to tell her?" interrupted the Bonnie Lassie who had been sent for to share the news.

The Little Red Doctor fell suddenly grave. "She's another matter," he said. "I don't think I shall."

Matters were going forward with Mayme-beg her pardon, Mary McCartney, too.

"Better and more of it," she wrote the Bonnie Lassie. "They rang me in on one of their local Red Cross shows to do a monologue. Was I a hit? Say, I got more flowers than a hearse! You've got to remember, though, that they deliver flowers by the car-load out here. And the local stock company has made me an offer. Ingenue parts. There is not the money that I might get in the pictures, but the chance is better. So Marie Courtenay moves on to the legit.-I mean the spoken drama. Look out for me on Broadway later!"

In the correspondence from Sergeant Berthelin there came a long hiatus followed by a curt bit of official information: "Seriously wounded." The Little Red Doctor brought the news to me, with a queer expression on his face.

"It doesn't look good, Dominie," he said. "You know, my old friend, Death, is a shrewd picker. He's got an eye for men." He mused, rubbing his tousled, brickish locks with a nervous hand. "I was getting to kind of like that young pup," he muttered moodily.

The saying that no news is good news was surely concocted by some one who never chafed through day after lengthening day for that which does not come. But in the end it did come, in the form of a scrawl from the Weeping Scion himself. He was mending, but very slowly, and they said it would be a long time-months, perhaps-before he could get back to the front. Meantime, they were still picking odds and ends, chiefly metallic, out of various parts of his system.

"I'm one of the guys you read about that came over here to collect souvenirs," he commented. "Well, I've got all I need of 'em. They can have the rest. All I want now is to get back and present a few to Fritzie before the show is over."

Thereafter the Little Red Doctor exhibited, but read to us only in small parts, quite bulky communications from overseas. Some of them, it became known, he was forwarding to our little Mary, out in the Far West. With her answer came the solution.

"Some of the 'Grass and Asphalt' sketches are wonders; some not so good. I am going to try out 'Doggy' if I can find a poodle with enough intelligence to support me. But you need not have been so mysterious, Doc, about your 'young amateur writer who seems to have some talent.' Did you think I would not know it was David? Why, bless your dear, silly heart, I told him some of those stories myself. But how does he get a chance to write them? Is he back on this side? Or is he invalided? Or what? Tell me. I want to know about him. You do not have to worry about my-well, my infatuation for him, any more. He was a pretty boy, though, wasn't he? But I have seen too many of that kind in the picture game. I'm spoiled for them. How I would love to smear some of their pretty, smirky faces! They give me a queer feeling in my breakfast. Excuse me: I forgot I was a lady. But don't say 'pretty' to me any more. I'm through. At that, you were all wrong about Buddy. He was a lot decenter than you thought: only he was brought up wrong. Give him my love as one pal to another. I hope he don't come back a He-ro. I'm offen he-roes, too. Excuse again!"

Wars and exiles alike come to an end in time. And in time our two wanderers returned, but Mary first, David having been sent into Germany with the Army of Occupation. Modest announcements in the theatrical columns informed an indifferent theater-going world that Miss Marie Courtenay, an actress new to Broadway, was to play the ingenue part in the latest comedy by a highly popular dramatist. Immediately upon the production, the theater-going world ceased to be indifferent to the new actress; in fact, it went into one of its occasional furores about her. Not that she was in any way a great genius, but she had a certain indefinable and winningly individual quality. The critics discussed it gravely and at length, differing argumentatively as to its nature and constitution. I could have given them a hint. My predictions regarding the ancestral potencies of the monkey-face were being abundantly justified.

No announcements, even of the most modest description, heralded the arrival of Sergeant Major (if you please!) David Berthelin upon his native shores. He came at once to Our Square and tackled the Little Red Doctor.

"Where is she?" he asked.

The Little Red Doctor assumed an air of incredulous surprise. "Have you still got that bee in your bonnet?" said he.

"Where is she?" repeated the Weeping Scion.

Maneuvering for time and counsel, the Little Red Doctor took him to see the Bonnie Lassie and they sent for me. We beheld a new and reconstituted David. He was no longer pretty. The soft brown eyes were less soft and more alert, and there were little wrinkles at their corners. He had broadened a foot or so. That pinky-delicate complexion by which he had, in earlier and easier days, set obvious store, was brownish and looked hardened. The Cupid's-bow of his mouth had straightened out. High on one cheekbone was a not unsightly scar. His manner was unassertive, but eminently self-respecting, and me, whom aforetime he had stigmatized as a "white-whiskered old goat," he now addressed as "Sir."

"Perhaps you'll tell me where she is, sir," said he patiently.

"Leave it to me," said the Bonnie Lassie, who has an unquenchable thirst for the dramatic in real life. "And keep next Sunday night open."

She arranged with Mary McCartney to give a reading on that evening, at her studio, of David's "Doggy" from the "Grass and Asphalt" sketches which he had written in hospital. It was a quaint, pathetic little conceit, the bewildered philosophy of a waif of the streets, as expressed to his waif of a dog. For the supporting part we borrowed Willy Woolly from the House of Silvery Voices, and admirably he played it, barking accurately and with true histrionic fervor in the right places (besides promptly falling in love with the star at the first and only rehearsal). After the try-out, Mary came over to my bench with a check for a rather dazzling sum in her hand, and said that now was the time to settle accounts, but she never could repay-and so forth and so on; all put so sweetly and genuinely that I heartily wished I might accept the thanks if not the check. Instead of which I blurted out the truth.

"Oh, Dominie!" said the girl, with such reproach that my heart sank within me. "Do you think that was fair? Don't you know that I never could have taken the money?"

"Precisely. And we had to find a way to make you take it. We couldn't have you dying on the premises," I argued with a feeble attempt at jocularity.

"But from him!" she said. "After what had happened-And his mother.

How could you let me do it!"

"I thought you would have gotten over that feeling by this time," I ventured.

"Oh, there's none of the old feeling left," she answered, so simply that I knew she believed her own statement. "But to have lived on his money-Where is he?" she asked abruptly.

I told her that also and about Sunday night; the whole thing. The Bonnie Lassie would have slain me. But I couldn't help it. I was feeling rather abject.

Sunday night came, and with it Miss Marie Courtenay, escorted by an "ace" covered with decorations, whose name is a household word and who was only too obviously her adoring slave. Already there had been hints of their engagement. Had I been that ace, I should have felt no small discomposure at the sight of the girl's face when she first saw the changed and matured Weeping Scion of three years before. After the first flash of recognition she had developed on that expressive face of hers a look of wonder and almost pathetic questioning, and, I thought, who knew and loved the child, already something deeper and sweeter. Young David, after greeting the star of the evening, took a modest rear seat as befitted his rank. But when the Bonnie Lassie announced "Doggy," it was his face that was the study.

Of that performance I shall say nothing. It is now famous and familiar to thousands of theater-goers. But if ever mortal man spent twenty minutes in fairyland, it was David, while Mary was playing the work of his fancy. At the close, he disappeared. I suppose he did not dare trust himself to join in the congratulations with which she was overwhelmed. I found him, as I rather expected, on the bench where he had sat when Mayme McCartney first found him. And when the crowd had departed from the studio, I told the girl. Without even stopping to put on her hat she went out to him.

He was sitting with his elbows on his knees and his fists supporting his cheekbones. But this time he was not weeping. He was thinking. Just as of old she put a hand on his humped shoulder. Startled, he looked up, and jumped to his feet. She was holding something out to him.

"What's that?" he said.

"A check. For what I owe you."

"Who told you? The Little Red Doctor promised-"

"He's kept his promise. The Dominie told me."

"Oh! I suppose," he said slowly, "I've got to take this. You wouldn't-no, of course you wouldn't," he sighed.

"I've tried to keep strict account," she said.

David adopted a matter-of-fact tone. "I can't deny that it'll come in handy, just now," he remarked. "At the present price of clothing, and with my personal exchequer in its depleted state-"

"Why," she broke in, "has anything happened? Your mother-?"

"Cut off," said David briefly.

"She's cut you off? On my account? Oh-"

"No. I've cut her off. Temporarily. She doesn't want me to work. I'm working. On a newspaper."

"That's good," said the girl warmly. "Let's sit down."

They sat down. Each, however, found it curiously hard to begin again. Mary was aching to thank him, but had a dreadful fear that if she tried to, she would cry. She didn't want to cry. She had a feeling that crying would be a highly unstrategic procedure leading to possible alarming developments. Why didn't David say something? Finally he did make a beginning.

"Mayme."

"No: not 'Mayme' any more."

He flushed to his temples. "I beg your pardon, Miss Courtenay."

"Nonsense!" she said softly. "Mary. I've discarded the 'Mayme' long ago."

"Mary," he repeated in a tone of musing content.

"Buddy."

He caught his breath. "A few thousand of the best guys in the world," he said, "call a fellow that. And every time they said it, it made my heart ache with longing to hear it in your voice."

"You're a queer Buddy," returned the girl, not quite steadily. "Did you bring me home a German helmet for a souvenir?"

He shook his head. "I didn't bring home much of anything, except some experience and the discovery of the fact that when I had to stand on my own feet, I wasn't much."

"You got your stripes, didn't you?" suggested the girl.

"That's all I did get," he returned jealously. "I didn't get any medal, or palms or decorations or crosses of war: I didn't get anything except an occasional calling down and a few scratches. If I'd had the luck to get into aviation or some of the fancy branches-" David checked himself. "There I go," he said in self-disgust. "Beefing again."

It was quite in the old, spoiled-child tone; an echo of indestructible personality, the Weeping Scion of other days; and it went straight to Mary's swelling, bewildered, groping heart. She began to laugh and a sob tangled itself in the laughter, and she choked and said:

"Buddy."

He turned toward her.

"Don't be dumb, Buddy," she said, in the words of their unforgotten first talk. "You've-you've got me-if you still want me."

She put out a tremulous hand to him, and it slipped over his shoulder and around his neck, and she was drawn close into his arms.

"The Little Red Doctor," remarked David after an interlude, in the shaken tone of one who has had undeserved miracles thrust upon him, "said that to want something more than anything in the world and not get it was good for my soul, besides serving me right."

"The Little Red Doctor," retorted Mary McCartney, with the reckless ingratitude of a woman in love, "is a dear little red idiot. What does he know about Us!"

BARBRAN

Immediately upon hearing of my fell design MacLachan, the tailor, paid a visit of protest to my bench.

"Is it true fact that I hear, Dominie?"

"What do you hear, MacLachan?"

"That ye're to make one of yer silly histories about Barbran?"

"Perfectly true," said I, passing over the uncomplimentary adjective.

"'Tis a feckless waste of time."

"Very likely."

"'Twill encourage the pair, when a man of yer age and influence in Our

Square should be dissuadin' them."

"Perhaps they need a friendly word."

MacLachan frowned. "Ye're determined?"

"Oh, quite!"

"Then I'll give ye a title for yer romance."

"That's very kind of you. Give it."

"The Story of Two Young Fools. By an Old One," said MacLachan witheringly, and turned to depart.

"Mac!"

"What?"

"Wait a moment."

I held him with my glittering eye. Also, in case that should be inadequate, with the crook of my cane firmly fixed upon his ankle.

"I'll waste na time from the tailorin'," began the Scot disdainfully, but paused as I pointed a loaded finger at his head. "Well?" he said, showing a guilty inclination to flinch.

"Mac, was I an original accomplice in this affair?"

"Will ye purtend to deny-"

"Did I scheme and plot with Cyrus the Gaunt and young Stacey?"

MacLachan mumbled something about undue influence.

"Did I get arrested?"

MacLachan grunted.

"In a cellar?"

MacLachan snorted.

"With my nose painted green?"

MacLachan groaned. "There was others," he pleaded.

"A man of your age and influence in Our Square," I interrupted sternly, "should have been dissuading them."

"Arr ye designin' to put all that in yer sil-in yer interestin' account?"

"Every detail."

MacLachan dislodged my crook from his leg, gave me such a look as mid-Victorian painters strove for in pictures of the Dying Stag, and retired to his Home of Fashion.

* * * * *

That men of the sobriety and standing of Cyrus the Gaunt, MacLachan, Leon Coventry, the Little Red Doctor, and Boggs (I do not count young Phil Stacey, for he was insane at the time, and has been so, with modifications and glorifications, ever since) should paint their noses green and frequent dubious cellars, calls for explanation. The explanation is Barbran.

Barbran came to us from the immeasurable distances; to wit, Washington

Square.

Let me confess at once that we are a bit supercilious in our attitude toward the sister Square far to our West, across the Alps of Broadway. Our Square was an established center of the social respectabilities when the foot of Fifth Avenue was still frequented by the occasional cow whose wanderings are responsible for the street-plan of Greenwich Village. Our Square remains true to the ancient and simple traditions, whereas Washington Square has grown long hair, smeared its fingers with paint and its lips with free verse, and gone into debt for its inconsiderable laundry bills. Washington Square we suspect of playing at life; Our Square has a sufficiently hard time living it. We have little in common.

Nevertheless, it must be admitted that there are veritable humans, not wholly submerged in the crowd of self-conscious mummers who crowd the Occidental park-space, and it was at the house of one of these, a woman architect with a golden dream of rebuilding Greenwich Village, street by street, into something simple and beautiful and, in the larger sense urban, that the Bonnie Lassie, whose artistic deviations often take her far afield, met Barbran.

They went for coffee to a queer little burrow decorated with improving sentiments from the immortal Lewis Carroll which, Barbran told the Bonnie Lassie, was making its blue-smocked, bobbed-haired, attractive and shrewd little proprietress quite rich. Barbran hinted that she was thinking of improving on the Mole's Hole idea if she could find a suitable location, not so much for the money, of course-her tone implied a lordly indifference to such considerations-as for the fun of the thing.

The Bonnie Lassie was amused but not impressed. What did impress her about Barbran was a certain gay yet restful charm; the sort of difficult thing that our indomitable sculptress loves to catch and fix in her wonderful little bronzes. She set about catching Barbran.

Now the way of a snake with a bird is as nothing for fascination compared to the way of the Bonnie Lassie with the doomed person whom she has marked down as a subject. Barbran hesitated, capitulated, came to the Bonnie Lassie's house, moused about Our Square in a rapt manner and stayed. She rented a room from the Angel of Death ("Boggs Kills Bugs" is the remainder of his sign, which is considered to lend tone and local interest to his whole side of the Square), just over Madame Tallafferr's apartments, and, in the course of time, stopped at my bench and looked at me contemplatively. She was a small person with shy, soft eyes.

"The Bonnie Lassie sent you," said I.

She nodded.

"You've come here to live-Heaven only knows why-but we're glad to see you. And you want to know about the people; so the Bonnie Lassie said, 'Ask the Dominie; he landed here from the ark.' Didn't she?"

Barbran sat down and smiled at me.

"Having sought information," I pursued, "on my own account, I learn that you are the only daughter of a Western millionaire ranch-owner. How does it feel to revel in millions?"

"Romantic," said she.

"Of course you have designs upon us."

"Yes."

"Humanitarian, artistic, or sociological?"

"Oh, nothing long and clever like that."

"You grow more interesting. Having designs upon us, you doubtless wish my advice."

"No," she answered softly: "I've done it already."

"Rash and precipitate adventuress! What have you done already?"

"Started my designs. I've rented the basement of Number 26."

"Are you a rag-picker in disguise?"

"I'm going to start a coffee cellar. I was thinking of calling it 'The

Coffee Pot.' What do you think?"

"So you do wish my advice. I will give it to you. Do you see that plumber's shop next to the corner saloon?" I pointed to the Avenue whose ceaseless stream of humanity flows past Our Square without ever sweeping us into its current. "That was once a tea-shop. It was started by a dear little, prim little old maiden lady. The saloon was run by Tough Bill Manigan. The little old lady had a dainty sign painted and hung it up outside her place, 'The Teacup.' Tough Bill took a board and painted a sign and hung it up outside his place; 'The Hiccup.' The dear little, prim little old maiden lady took down her sign and went away. Yet there are those who say that competition is the life of trade."

"Is there a moral to your story, Mr. Dominie?"

"Take it or leave it," said I amiably.

"I will not call my cellar 'The Coffee Pot' lest a worse thing befall it."

"You are a sensible young woman, Miss Barbara Ann Waterbury."

"It is true that my parents named me that," said she, "but my friends call me 'Barbran' because I always used to call myself that when I was little, and I want to be called Barbran here."

"That's very friendly of you," I observed.

She gave me a swift, suspicious look. "You think I'm a fool," she observed calmly. "But I'm not. I'm going to become a local institution. A local institution can't be called Barbara Ann Waterbury, unless it's a crêche or a drinking-fountain or something like that, can it?"

"It cannot, Barbran."

"Thank you, Mr. Dominie," said Barbran gratefully. She then proceeded to sketch out for me her plans for making her Coffee Cellar and herself a Local Institution, which should lure hopeful seekers for Bohemia from the far parts of Harlem and Jersey City, and even such outer realms of darkness as New Haven and Cohoes.

"That's what I intend to do," said Barbran, "as soon as I get my Great

Idea worked out."

What the Great Idea was, I was to learn later and from other lips. In fact, from the lips of young Phil Stacey, who appeared, rather elaborately loitering out from behind the fountain, shortly after my new friend had departed, a peculiar look upon his extremely plain and friendly face. Young Mr. Stacey is notable, if for no other reason than that he represents a flat artistic failure on the part of the Bonnie Lassie, who has tried him in bronze, in plaster, and in clay with equal lack of success. There is something untransferable in the boy's face; perhaps its outshining character. I know that I never yet have said to any woman who knew him, no matter what her age, condition, or sentimental predilections, "Isn't he a homely cub!" that she didn't reply indignantly: "He's sweet!" Now when women-wonderful women like the Bonnie Lassie and stupid women like Mrs. Rosser, the twins' aunt, and fastidious women like Madame Tallafferr-unite in terming a smiling human freckle "sweet," there is nothing more to be said. Adonis may as well take a back seat and the Apollo Belvedere seek the helpful resources of a beauty parlor. Said young Phil carelessly:

"Dominie, who's the newcomer?"

"That," said I, "is Barbran."

"Barbran," he repeated with a rising inflection. "It sounds like a breakfast food."

"As she pronounces it, it sounds like a strain of music," said I.

"What's the rest of her name?"

"I am not officially authorized to communicate that."

"Are you officially authorized to present your friends to her?"

"On what do you base your claim to acquaintanceship, my boy?" I asked austerely.

"Oh, claim! Well, you see, a couple of days ago, she was on the cross-town car; and I-well, I just happened to notice her, you know. That's all."

"Yet I am informed on good and sufficient authority that her appearance is not such as to commend her, visually, if I may so express myself, to the discriminating eye."

"Who's the fool-" began Mr. Stacey hotly.

"Tut-tut, my young friend," said I. "Certain ladies whom we both esteem can and will prove, to the satisfaction of the fair-minded, that none of the young person's features is exactly what it should be or precisely where it ought to be. Nevertheless, the net result is surprising and even gratifying."

"She's a peach!" asseverated my companion.

"Substantially what I was remarking. As for your other hint, you need no introduction to Barbran. Nobody does."

"What?" Phil Stacey's plain face became ugly; a hostile light glittered in his eyes. "What do you mean by that?" he growled.

"Simply that she's about to become a local institution. She's plotting against the peace and security of Our Square, to the extent of starting a coffee-house at Number 26."

"No!" cried Phil joyously. "Good news!"

"As a fad. She's a budding millionairess from the West."

"No!" growled Phil, his face falling.

"Bad news; eh? It occurred to me that she might want some decorations, and that you might be the one to do them." In his leisure hours, my young friend, who is an expert accountant by trade (the term "expert" appears to be rather an empty compliment, since his stipend is only twenty-five dollars a week), perpetrates impressionistic decorations and scenery for such minor theaters as will endure them.

"You're a grand old man, Dominie!" said he. "Let's go."

We went. We found Barbran. We conversed. Half an hour later when I left them-without any strenuous protests on the part of either-they were deeply engrossed in a mutual discussion upon decorations, religion, the high cost of living, free verse, two-cent transfers, Charley Chaplin, aviation, ouija, and other equally safe topics. Did I say safe? Dangerous is what I mean. For when a youth who is as homely as young Phil Stacey and in that particular style of homeliness, and a girl who is as far from homely as Barbran begin, at first sight, to explore each other's opinions, they are venturing into a dim and haunted region, lighted by will-o'-the-wisps and beset with perils and pitfalls. Usually they smile as they go. Phil was smiling as I left them. So was Barbran. I may have smiled myself.

Anything but a smile was on Phil Stacey's normally cheerful face when, some three days thereafter, he came to my rooms.

"Dominie," said he, "I want to tap your library. Have you got any of the works of Harvey Wheelwright?"

"God forbid!" said I.

Phil looked surprised. "Is it as bad as that? I didn't suppose there was anything wrong with the stuff."

"Don't you imperil your decent young soul with it," I advised earnestly. "It reeks of poisonous piety. The world he paints is so full of nauseating virtues that any self-respecting man would rather live in hell. His characters all talk like a Sunday-school picnic out of the Rollo books. No such people ever lived or ever could live, because a righteously enraged populace would have killed 'em in early childhood. He's the smuggest fraud and best seller in the United States. Wheelwright? The crudest, shrewdest, most preposterous panderer to weak-minded-"

"Whew! Help! I didn't know what I was starting," protested my visitor. "As a literary critic you're some Big Bertha, Dominie. I begin to suspect that you don't care an awful lot about Mr. Wheelwright's style of composition. Just the same, I've got to read him. All of him. Do you think I'll find his stuff in the Penny Circulator?"

"My poor, lost boy! Probably not. It is doubtless all out in the hands of eager readers."

However, Phil contrived to round it up somewhere. The awful and unsuspected results I beheld on my first visit of patronage to Barbran's cellar, the occasion being the formal opening. A large and curious crowd of five persons, including myself and Phil Stacey, were there. Outside, an old English design of a signboard with a wheel on it creaked despairingly in the wind. Below was a legend: "At the Sign of the Wheel-The Wrightery." The interior of the cellar was decorated with scenes from the novels of Harvey Wheelwright, triumphant virtue, discomfited villains, benignant blessings, chaste embraces, edifying death-beds, and orange-blossoms. They were unsigned; but well I knew whose was the shame. Over the fireplace hung a framed letter from the Great Soul. It began, "Dear Young Friend and Admirer," and ended, "Yours for the Light. Harvey Wheelwright."

The guests did as well as could be expected. They ate and drank everything in sight. They then left; that is to say, four of them did. Finally Phil departed, glowering at me. I am a patient soul. No sooner had the door slammed behind him than I turned to Barbran, who was looking discouraged.

"Well, what have you to say in your defense?"

The way Barbran's eyebrows went up constituted in itself a defense fit to move any jury to acquittal.

"For what?" she asked.

"For corrupting my young friend Stacey. You made him paint those pictures."

"They're very nice," returned Barbran demurely. "Quite true to the subject."

"They're awful. They're an offense to civilization. They're an insult to

Our Square. Of all subjects in the world, Harvey Wheelwright! Why,

Barbran? Why? Why? Why?"

"Business," said Barbran.

"Explain, please," said I.

"I got the idea from a friend of mine in Washington Square. She got up a little cellar café built around Alice. Alice in Wonderland, you know, and the Looking Glass. Though I don't suppose a learned and serious person like you would ever have read such nonsense."

"It happened to be Friday and there wasn't a hippopotamus in the house,"

I murmured.

"Oh," said Barbran, brightening. "Well, I thought if she could do it with Alice, I could do it with Harvey Wheelwright."

"In the name of Hatta and the March Hare, why?"

"Because, for every one person who reads Alice nowadays, ten read the author of 'Reborn Through Righteousness' and 'Called by the Cause.' Isn't it so?"

"Mathematically unimpeachable."

"Therefore I ought to get ten times as many people as the other place.

Don't you think so?" she inquired wistfully.

Who am I to withhold a comforting fallacy from a hopeful soul.

"Undoubtedly," I agreed. "But do you love him?"

"Who?" said Barbran, with a start. The faint pink color ran up her cheeks.

"Harvey Wheelwright, of course. Whom did you think I meant?"

"He is a very estimable writer," returned Barbran primly, quite ignoring my other query.

"Good-night, Barbran," said I sadly. "I'm going out to mourn your lost soul."

One might reasonably expect to find peace and quiet in the vicinity of one's own particular bench at 11.45 P.M. in Our Square. But not at all on this occasion. There sat Phil Stacey. I challenged him at once.

"What did you do it for?"

To do him justice he did not dodge or pretend to misunderstand. "Pay," said he.

"Phil! Did you take money for that stuff?"

"Not exactly. I'm taking it out in trade. I'm going to eat there."

"You'll starve to death."

"I haven't got much of an appetite."

"The inevitable effect of overfeeding on sweets. An uninterrupted diet of Harvey Wheelwright-"

"Don't speak the swine's name," implored Phil, "or I'll be sick."

"You've sold your artistic birthright for a mess of pottage, probably indigestible at that."

"I don't care," he averred stoutly. "I don't care for anything except-Dominie, who told you her father was a millionaire?"

"It's well known," I said vaguely. "He's a cattle king or an emperor of sheep or the sultan of the piggery or something. A good thing for Barbran, too, if she expects to keep her cellar going. The kind of people who read Har-our unmentionable author, don't frequent Bohemian coffee cellars. They would regard it as reckless and abandoned debauchery. Barbran has shot at the wrong mark."

"The place has got to be a success," declared Phil between his teeth, his plain face expressing a sort of desperate determination.

"Otherwise the butterfly will fly back West," I suggested. The boy winced.

What man could do to make it a success, Phil Stacey did and heroically. Not only did he eat all his meals there, but he went forth into the highways and byways and haled in other patrons (whom he privately paid for) to an extent which threatened to exhaust his means.

Our Square is conservative, not to say distrustful in its bearing toward innovations. Thornsen's élite Restaurant has always sufficed for our inner cravings. We are, I suppose, too old to change. Nor does Harvey Wheelwright exercise an inspirational sway over us. We let the little millionairess and her Washington Square importation pretty well alone. She advertised feebly in the "Where to Eat" columns, catching a few stray outlanders, but for the most part people didn't come. Until the first of the month, that is. Then too many came. They brought their bills with them.

Evening after evening Barbran and Phil Stacey sat in the cellar almost or quite alone. So far as I could judge from my occasional visits of patronage (Barbran furnished excellent sweet cider and cakes for late comers), they endured the lack of custom with fortitude, not to say indifference. But in the mornings her soft eyes looked heavy, and once, as she was passing my bench deep in thought, I surprised a look of blank terror on her face. One can understand that even a millionaire's daughter might spend sleepless nights brooding over a failure. But that look of mortal dread! How well I know it! How often have I seen it, preceding some sordid or brave tragedy of want and wretchedness in Our Square! What should it mean, though, on Barbran's sunny face? Puzzling over the question I put it to the Bonnie Lassie.

"Read me a riddle, O Lady of the Wise Heart. Of what is a child of fortune, young, strong, and charming, afraid?"

At the time we were passing the house in which the insecticidal Angel of

Death takes carefully selected and certified lodgers.

"I know whom you mean," said the Bonnie Lassie, pointing up to the little dormer window which was Barbran's outlook on life. "Interpret me a signal. What do you see up there?"

"It appears to be a handkerchief pasted to the window," said I adjusting my glasses.

"Upside down," said the Bonnie Lassie.

"How can a handkerchief be upside down?" I inquired, in what was intended to be a tone of sweet reasonableness.

Contempt was all that it brought me. "Metaphorically, of course! It's a signal of distress."

"In what distress can Barbran be?"

"In what kind of distress are most people who live next under the roof in Our Square?"

"She's doing that just to get into our atmosphere. She told me so herself. A millionaire's daughter-"

"Do millionaires' daughters wash their own handkerchiefs and paste them on windows to dry? Does any woman in or out of Our Square ever soak her own handkerchiefs in her own washbowl except when she's desperately saving pennies? Did you ever wash one single handkerchief in your rooms, Dominie?"

"Certainly not. It isn't manly. Then you think she isn't a millionairess?"

"Look at her shoes when next you see her," answered the Bonnie Lassie conclusively. "I think the poor little thing has put her every cent in the world into her senseless cellar, and she's going under."

"But, good Heavens!" I exclaimed. "Something has got to be done."

"It's going to be."

"Who's going to do it?"

"Me," returned the Bonnie Lassie, who is least grammatical when most purposeful.

"Then," said I, "the Fates may as well shut up shop and Providence take a day off; the universe has temporarily changed its management. Can I help?"

The Bonnie Lassie focused her gaze in a peculiar manner upon the exact center of my countenance. A sort of fairy grin played about her lips. "I wonder if-No," she sighed. "No. I don't think it would do, Dominie. Anyway, I've got six without you."

"Including Phil Stacey?"

"Of course," retorted the Bonnie Lassie. "It was he who came to me for help. I'm really doing this for him."

"I thought you were doing it for Barbran."

"Oh; she's just a transposed Washington Squarer," answered the tyrant of

Our Square. "Though she's a dear kiddie, too, underneath the nonsense."

"Do I understand-"

"I don't see," interrupted the Bonnie Lassie sweetly, "how you could. I haven't told you. And the rest are bound to secrecy. But don't be unduly alarmed at anything queer you may see in Our Square within the next few days."

Only by virtue of that warning was I able to command the emotions aroused by an encounter with Cyrus the Gaunt some evenings later. He was hurrying across the park space in the furtive manner of one going to a shameful rendezvous, and upon my hailing him he at first essayed to sheer off. When he saw who it was he came up with a rather swaggering and nonchalant effect. I may observe here that nobody has a monopoly of nonchalance in this world.

"Good-evening, Cyrus," I said.

"Good-evening, Dominie."

"Beautiful weather we're having."

"Couldn't be finer."

"Do you think it will hold?"

"The paper says rain to-morrow."

"Why is the tip of your nose painted green?"

"Is it green?" inquired Cyrus, as if he hadn't given the matter any special consideration, but thought it quite possible.

"Emerald," said I. "It looks as if it were mortifying."

"It would be mortifying," admitted Cyrus the Gaunt, "if it weren't in a good cause."

"What cause?" I asked.

"Come out of there!" said Cyrus the Gaunt, not to me, but to a figure lurking in the shrubbery.

The Little Red Doctor emerged. I took one look at his most distinctive feature.

"You, too!" I said. "What do you mean by it?"

"Ask Cyrus," returned the Little Red Doctor glumly.

"It's a cult," said Cyrus. "The credit of the notion belongs not to me, but to my esteemed better half. A few chosen souls-"

"Here comes another of them," I conjectured, as a bowed form approached.

"Who is it? MacLachan!"

The old Scot appeared to be suffering from a severe cold. His handkerchief was pressed to his face.

"Take it down, Mac," I ordered. "It's useless." He did so, and my worst suspicions were confirmed.

"He bullied me into it," declared the tailor, glowering at Cyrus the

Gaunt.

"It'll do your nose good," declared Cyrus jauntily. "Give it a change.

Complementary colors, you know. What ho! Our leader."

Phil Stacey appeared. He appeared serious; that is, as serious as one can appear when his central feature glows like the starboard light of an incoming steamship. Following him were Leon Coventry, huge and shy, and the lethal Boggs looking unhappy.

"Where are you all going?" I demanded.

"To the Wrightery," said Phil.

"Is it a party?"

"It's a gathering."

"Am I included?"

"If you'll-"

"Not on any account," I declared firmly. It had just occurred to me why the Bonnie Lassie had centered her gaze upon my features. "Follow your indecent noses as far as you like. I stay."

Still lost in meditation, I may have dozed on my bench, when heavy, measured footsteps aroused me. I looked up to see Terry the Cop, guardian of our peace, arbiter of differences, conservator of our morals. I peered at him with anxiety.

"Terry," I inquired, "how is your nose?"

"Keen, Dominie," said Terry. He sniffed the air. "Don't you detect the smell of illegal alcohol?"

"I can't say I do."

"It's very plain," declared the officer wriggling his nasal organ which, I was vastly relieved to observe, retained its original hue. "Wouldn't you say, Dominie, it comes from yonder cellar?"

"Barbran's cellar?

"I am informed that a circle of dangerous char-_ack_ters with green noses gather there and drink cider containing more than two-seventy-five per cent of apple juice. I'm about to pull the place."

"For Heaven's sake, Terry; don't do that! You'll scare-"

"Whisht, Dominie!" interrupted Terry with an elaborate wink. "There'll be no surprise, except maybe to the Judge in the morning. You better drop in at the court."

Of the round-up I have no details, except that it seemed to be quietly conducted. The case was called the next day, before Magistrate Wolf Tone Hanrahan, known as the "Human Judge." Besides being human, his Honor is, as may be inferred from his name, somewhat Irish. He heard the evidence, tested the sample, announced his intention of coming around that evening for some more, and honorably discharged Barbran.

"And what about these min?" he inquired, gazing upon the dauntless six.

"Dangerous suspects, Yeronner," said Terry the Cop.

"They look mild as goat's milk to me," returned the Magistrate, "though now I get me eye on the rid-hidded wan [with a friendly wink at the Little Red Doctor] I reckonize him as a desprit charackter that'd save your life as soon as look at ye. What way are they dang'rous?"

"When apprehended," replied Terry, looking covertly about to see that the reporters were within hearing distance, "their noses were painted green."

"Is this true?" asked the Magistrate of the six.

"It is, your Honor," they replied.

"An', why not!" demanded the Human Judge hotly. "'Tis a glorious color! Erin go bragh! Off'cer, ye've exceeded yer jooty. D' ye think this is downtrodden an' sufferin' Oireland an' yerself the tyrant Gineral French? Let 'em paint their noses anny color they loike; but green for preference. I'm tellin' ye, this is the land of freedom an' equality, an' ivery citizen thereof is entitled to life, liberty, and the purshoot of happiness, an' a man's nose is his castle, an' don't ye fergit it. Dis-charrrrged! Go an' sin no more. I mane, let the good worruk go awn!"

"Now watch for the evening papers," said young Phil Stacey exultantly. "The Wrightery will get some free advertising that'll crowd it for months."

Alas for youth's golden hopes! The evening papers ignored the carefully prepared event. One morning paper published a paragraph, attributing the green noses to a masquerade party. The conspirators, gathered at the cellar with their war-paints on (in case of reporters), discussed the fiasco in embittered tones. Young Stacey raged against a stupid and corrupt press. MacLachan expressed the acidulous hope that thereafter Cyrus the Gaunt would be content with making a fool of himself without implicating innocent and confiding friends. The Bonnie Lassie was not present, but sent word (characteristically) that they must have done it all wrong; men had no sense, anyway. The party then sent out for turpentine and broke up to reassemble no more. Only Phil Stacey, inventor of the great idea, was still faithful to and hopeful of it. Each evening he conscientiously greened himself and went to eat with Barbran.

Time justified his faith. One evening there dropped in a plump man who exhaled a mild and comforting benevolence, like a gentle country parson. He smiled sweetly at Phil, and introduced himself as a reporter for the "Sunday World Magazine"-and where was the rest of the circle? In a flurry of excitement, the pair sent for Cyrus the Gaunt to do the talking. Cyrus arrived, breathless and a trifle off color (the Bonnie Lassie had unfortunately got a touch of bronze scenic paint mixed with the green, so that he smelled like an over-ripe banana), and proceeded to exposition.

"This," he explained, "is a new cult. It is based on the back-to-the-spring idea. The well-spring of life, you know. The-er-spring of eternal youth, and-and so forth. You understand?"

"I hope to," said the reporter politely. "Why on the nose?"

"I will explain that," returned Cyrus, getting his second wind; "but first let me get the central idea in your mind. It's a nature movement; a readjustment of art to nature. All nature is green. Look about you." Here he paused for effect, which was unfortunate.

"Quite so," agreed the reporter. "The cable-car, for instance, and the dollar bill, not to mention the croton bug and the polar bear. But, pardon me, I interrupt the flow of your eloquence."

"You do," said Cyrus severely. "Inanimate nature I speak of. All inanimate nature is green. But we poor fellow creatures have gotten away from the universal mother-color. We must get back to it. We must learn to think greenly. But first we must learn to see greenly. How shall we accomplish this? Put green in our eyes? Impossible, unfortunately. But, our noses-there is the solution. In direct proximity to the eye, the color, properly applied, tints one's vision of all things. Green shadows in a green world," mooned Cyrus the Gaunt poetically. "As the bard puts it:

"'Annihilating all that's made

To a green thought in a green shade.'"

"Wait a minute," said the visitor, and made a note on an envelope-back.

"Accordingly, Miss Barbran, the daughter and heiress of a millionaire cattle owner in Wyoming [here the reporter made his second note], has established this center where we meet to renew and refresh our souls."

"Good!" said the benevolent reporter. "Fine! Of course it's all bunk-"

"Bunk!" echoed Barbran and Phil, aghast, while Cyrus sat with his lank jaw drooping.

"You don't see any of your favorite color in my eye, do you?" inquired the visitor pleasantly. "Just what you're putting over I don't know. Some kind of new grease paint, perhaps. Don't tell me. It's good enough, anyway. I'll fall for it. It's worth a page story. Of course I'll want some photographs of the mural paintings. They're almost painfully beautiful…. What's wrong with our young friend; is he sick?" he added, looking with astonishment at Phil Stacey who was exhibiting sub-nauseous symptoms.

"He painted 'em," explained Cyrus, grinning.

"And he's sorry," supplemented Barbran.

"Yes; I wouldn't wonder. Well, I won't give him away," said the kindly journalist. "Now, as to the membership of your circle…."

The Sunday "story" covered a full page. The "millionairess" feature was played up conspicuously and repeatedly, and the illustrations did what little the text failed to do. It was a "josh-story" from beginning to end.

"I'll kill that pious fraud of a reporter," declared Phil.

"Now the place is ruined," mourned Barbran.

"Wait and see," advised the wiser Cyrus.

Great is the power of publicity. The Wrightery was swamped with custom on the Monday evening following publication, and for the rest of that week and the succeeding week.

"I never was good at figures," said the transported Barbran to Phil Stacey at the close of the month, "but as near as I can make out, I've a clear profit of eight dollars and seventy cents. My fortune is made. And it's all due to you."

Had the Bonnie Lassie been able to hold her painted retainers in line, the owner's golden prophecy might have been made good. But they had other matters on hand for their evenings than sitting about in a dim cellar gazing cross-eyed at their own scandalous noses. MacLachan was the first defection. He said that he thought he was going crazy and he knew he was going blind. The Little Red Doctor was unreliable owing to the pressure of professional calls. He complained with some justice that a green nose on a practicing physician tended to impair confidence. Then Leon Coventry went away, and Boggs discovered (or invented) an important engagement with a growing family of clothes-moths in a Connecticut country house. So there remained only the faithful Phil. One swallow does not make a summer; nor does one youth with a vernal proboscis convince a skeptical public that it is enjoying the fearful companionship of a subversive and revolutionary cult. Patronage ebbed out as fast as it had flooded in. Barbran's eyes were as soft and happy as ever in the evenings, when she and Phil sat in a less and less interrupted solitude. But in the mornings palpable fear stalked her. Phil never saw it. He was preoccupied with a dread of his own.

One evening of howling wind and hammering rain, when all was cosy and home-like for two in the little firelit Wrightery, she nerved herself up to facing the facts.

"It's going to be a failure," she said dismally.

"Then you're going away?" he asked, trying to keep his voice from quaking.

She set her little chin quite firmly. "Not while there's a chance left of pulling it out."

"Well; it doesn't matter as far as I'm concerned," he muttered. "I'm going away myself."

"You?" She sat up very straight and startled. "Where?"

"Kansas City."

"Oh! What for?"

"Do you remember a fat old grandpa who was here last month and came back to ask about the decorations?"

"Yes."

"He's built him a new house-he calls it a mansion-and he wants me to paint the music-room. He likes"-Phil gulped a little-"my style of art."

"Isn't that great!" said Barbran in the voice of one giving three cheers for a funeral. "How does he want his music-room decorated?"

Young Phil put his head in his hands. "Scenes from Moody and Sankey," he said in a muffled voice.

"Good gracious! You aren't going to do it?"

"I am," retorted the other gloomily. "It's good money." Almost immediately he added, "Damn the money!"

"No; no; you mustn't do that. You must go, of course. Would-will it take long?"

"I'm not coming back."

"I don't want you not to come back," said Barbran, in a queer, frightened voice. She put out her hand to him and hastily withdrew it.

He said desperately: "What's the use? I can't sit here forever looking at you and-and dreaming of-of impossible things, and eating my heart out with my nose painted green."

"The poor nose!" murmured Barbran.

With one of her home-laundered handkerchiefs dipped in turpentine, she gently rubbed it clean. It then looked (as she said later in a feeble attempt to palliate her subsequent conduct) very pink and boyish and pathetic, but somehow faithful and reliable and altogether lovable.

So she kissed it. Then she tried to run away. The attempt failed.

It was not Barbran's nose that got kissed next. Nor, for that matter, was it young Phil's. Then he held her off and shut his eyes, for the untrammeled exercise of his reasoning powers, and again demanded of Barbran and the fates:

"What's the use?"

"What's the use of what?" returned Barbran tremulously.

"Of all this? Your father's a millionaire, and I won't-I can't-"

"He isn't!" cried Barbran. "And you can-you will."

"He isn't?" ejaculated Phil. "What is he?"

"He's a school-teacher, and I haven't got a thing but debts."

Phil received this untoward news as if a flock of angels, ringing joy bells, had just brought him the gladdest tidings in history. After an interlude he said:

"But, why-"

"Because," said Barbran, burrowing her nose in his coat: "I thought it would be an asset. I thought people would consider it romantic and it would help business. See how much that reporter made of it! Phil! Wh-wh-why are you treating me like a-a-a-dumbbell?"

For he had thrust her away from him at arm's-length again.

"There's one other thing between us, Barbran."

"If there is, it's your fault. What is it?"

"Harvey Wheelwright," he said solemnly. "Do you really like that sickening slush-slinger?"

She raised to him eyes in which a righteous hate quivered. "I loathe him. I've always loathed him. I despise the very ink he writes with and the paper it's printed on."

When I happened in a few minutes later, they were ritually burning the "Dear Friend and Admirer" letter in a slow candle-flame, and Harvey Wheelwright, as represented by his unctuously rolling signature, was writhing in merited torment. Between them they told me their little romance.

"And he's not going to Kansas City," said Barbran defiantly.

"I'm not going anywhere, ever, away from Barbran," said young Phil.

"And he's going to paint what he wants to."

"Pictures of Barbran," said young Phil.

"And we're going to burn the Wheel sign in effigy, and wipe off the walls and make the place a success," said Barbran.

"And we're going to be married right away," said Phil.

"Next week," said Barbran.

"What do you think?" said both.

Now I know what I ought to have said just as well as MacLachan himself. I should have pointed out the folly and recklessness of marrying on twenty-five dollars a week and a dowry of debts. I should have preached prudence and caution and delay, and have pointed out-The wind blew the door open: Young Spring was in the park, and the wet odor of little burgeoning leaves was borne in, wakening unwithered memories in my withered heart.

"Bless you, my children!" said I.

It was actually for this, as holding out encouragement to their reckless, feckless plans, that Wisdom, in the person of MacLachan, the tailor, reprehended me, rather than for my historical intentions regarding the pair.

"What'll they be marryin' on?" demanded Mac Wisdom-that is to say,

MacLachan.

"Spring and youth," I said. "The fragrance of lilac in the air, the glow of romance in their hearts. What better would you ask?"

"A bit of prudence," said MacLachan.

"Prudence!" I retorted scornfully. "The miser of the virtues. It may pay its own way through the world. But when did it ever take Happiness along for a jaunt?"

I was quite pleased with my little epigram until the Scot countered upon me with his observation about two young fools and an old one.

Oh, well! Likely enough. Most unwise, and rash and inexcusable, that headlong mating; and there will be a reckoning to pay. Babies, probably, and new needs and pressing anxieties, and Love will perhaps flutter at the window when Want shows his grim face at the door; and Wisdom will be justified of his forebodings, and yet-and yet-who am I, old and lonely and uncompanioned, yet once touched with the spheral music and the sacred fire, that I should subscribe to the dour orthodoxies of MacLachan and that ilk?

Years and years ago a bird flew in at my window, a bird of wonderful and flashing hues, and of lilting melodies. It came; it tarried-and I let the chill voice of Prudence overbear its music. It left me. But the song endures; the song endures, and all life has been the richer for its echoes. So let them hold and cherish their happiness, the two young fools.

As for the old one, would that some good fairy, possessed of the pigment and secret of perishable youth, might come down and paint his nose green!

PLOOIE OF OUR SQUARE

Whenever Plooie went shuffling by my bench, I used to think of an old and melancholy song that my grandfather sang:

"And his skin was so thin

You could almost see his bones

As he ran, hobble-hobble-hobble

Over the stones."

Before I could wholly recapture the quaint melody, my efforts would invariably be nullified by the raucous shriek of his trade which had forever fixed the nickname whereby Our Square knew Plooie:

"Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees à raccommoder!" He would then recapitulate in English, or rather that unreproducible dialect which was his substitute for it. "Oombrella for mend? Annie oombrella for mend?"

So he would pass on his way, shattering the peaceful air at half-minute intervals with his bilingual disharmonies. He was pallid, meagerly built, stoop-shouldered, bristly-haired, pock-marked, and stiff-gaited, with a face which would have been totally insignificant but for an obstinate chin and a pair of velvet-black, pathetically questioning eyes; and he was incurably an outlander. For five years he had lived among us, occupying a cubbyhole in Schepstein's basement full of ribs, handles, crooks, patches, and springs, without appreciably improving his speech or his position. It was said that his name was Garin-nobody really knew or cared-and it was assumed from his speech that he was French.

Few umbrellas came his way. Those of us affluent enough to maintain such non-essentials patch them ourselves until they are beyond reclamation. Why Plooie did not starve is one of the mysteries of Our Square, though by no means the only one of its kind. I have a notion that the Bonnie Lassie, to whom any variety of want or helplessness is its own sufficient recommendation, drummed up trade for him among her uptown friends. Something certainly enlisted his gratitude, for he invariably took off his frowsy cap when he passed her house, whether or not she was there to see, and he once unbosomed himself to me to the extent of declaring that she was a kind lady. This is the only commentary I ever heard him make upon any one in Our Square, which in turn completely ignored him until the development of his love affair stimulated our condescending and contemptuous interest.

The object of Plooie's addresses was a little Swiss of unknown derivation and obscure history. She appeared to be as detached from the surrounding world as the umbrella-mender himself. An insignificant bit of a thing she was, anaemic and subdued, with a sad little face, soft hazel eyes slightly crossed, and the deprecating manner of those who scrub other people's doorsteps at fifteen cents an hour.

For a year their courtship, if such it might be termed, ran an uneventful course. I had almost said unromantic. But who shall tell where is fancy bred or wherein romance consists? Whenever Plooie saw the drabbled little worker busy on a doorstep, he would cross over and open the conversation according to an invariable formula.

"Annie oombrella for mend? Annie oombrella?" Thereby the little Swiss became known as, and ever will be called locally, "Annie Oombrella." Like most close-knit, centripetal communities, we have a fatal penchant for nicknames in Our Square.

She would look up and smile wanly, and shake her head. Where, indeed, should the like of her get an umbrella to be mended!

Then would he say-I shall not attempt to torture the good English alphabet into a reproduction of his singular phonetics: "It makes fine to-day, it do!"

And she would reply "Yes, a fine day"; and look as if the sun were a little warmer upon her pale skin because of Plooie's greeting, as, perhaps, indeed, it was.

After that he would nod solemnly, or, if feeling especially loquacious, venture some prophecy concerning the morrow, before resuming his unproductive rounds and his lugubrious yawp. One day he discovered that she spoke French. From that time the relationship advanced rapidly. On Christmas he gave her a pair of red woolen gloves. On New Year's he took her walking among the tombstones in God's Acre, which is a serious and sentimental, not to say determinative, social step. Twice in the following week he carried her bucket from house to house. And in the glowing dusk of a crisp winter afternoon they sat together hand in hand, on a bench back of my habitual seat, and looked in each other's eyes, and spoke, infrequently, in their own language, forgetful of the rest of the world, including myself, who was, perhaps, supposed not to understand. But even without hearing their words, I could have guessed. It was very simple and direct, and rather touching. Plooie said:

"If one marries themselves?"

And she replied: "I believe it well."

They kissed solemnly, and their faces, in the gleam of the electric light which at that moment spluttered into ill-timed and tactless activity, were transfigured so that I marveled at the dim splendor of them.

But the Bonnie Lassie was scandalized. On general principles she mistrusts that any marriage is really made in heaven unless she acts as earthly agent of it. What had those two poverty-stricken little creatures to marry on? She put the question rhetorically to Our Square in general and to the two people most concerned in particular. Courts of law might have rejected their replies as irrelevant. Humanly, however, they were convincing enough.

Said Plooie: "Who will have a care of that little one if I have not?"

Said Annie Oombrella: "He is so lonely!"

So those two unfortunates united their misfortunes, and lo! happiness came of it. Luckily that is all that did come of it. What disposition the pair would have made of children, had any arrived, it is difficult to conjecture. Only by miraculous compression of ribs, handles, and fabrics was space contrived in the basement cubbyhole for Annie Oombrella to squeeze in. However, she set up housekeeping cheerily as a bird, with an odd lot of pots and pans which Schepstein had picked up at an auction and resold to them at not more than two hundred per cent profit, plus a kerosene stove, the magnificent wedding gift of the Bonnie Lassie and her husband, Cyrus the Gaunt. Twice a week they had meat. They were rising in the social scale.

Habitude is the real secret of tolerance. As we became accustomed to Plooie, Our Square ceased to resent his invincible outlandishness; we endured him with equanimity, although it would be exaggeration to say that we accepted him, and we certainly did not patronize him professionally. Nevertheless, in a minor degree, he nourished. Annie Oombrella must have lavished care upon him. His pinched-in shoulders broadened perceptibly. His gait, still a halting shuffle, grew noticeably brisker. There was even a heartier note in his lamentable trade cry:

"Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees à raccommoder!"

As for Annie Oombrella, having some one to look after quite transformed her. She grew plump and chirpy, and bustling as a blithe little sparrow, though perhaps duck would be a happier comparison, for she was dabbling and splashing in water all the day long, making the stairs and porches of her curatorship fairly glisten with cleanliness. Her rates went up to twenty cents an hour. There were rumors that she had started a savings account. Life stretched out before the little couple, smooth and peaceful and sunny with companionship.

Then came the war.

The calamitous quality of a great world tragedy is that it brings to so many helpless little folk bitter and ignoble tragedies of shame and humiliation and misunderstanding. With a few racial exceptions, Our Square was vehemently pro-Ally. In spirit we fought with valiant France and prayed for heroic Belgium. What a Godspeed we gave to the few sons of Gaul who, in those early days, left us to fight the good fight! How sourly we looked upon Plooie continuing his peaceful rounds. Whence arose the rumor, I cannot say, but it was noised about just at that time of wrath and tension that Plooie was born in Liège. Liège, that city of fire and slaughter and heroism, upon which the eyes and hopes of the world were turned in wonder and admiration. Somebody had seen the entry on the marriage register! The Bonnie Lassie told me of it, pausing at my bench with a little furrow between her bright eyes.

"Dominie, you know Emile Garin pretty well?"

"Not at all," I replied, failing to identify the rickety Plooie by his rightful name.

"Of course you do! Never a morning but he stops at your bench and asks if you have an umbrella to mend."

"I never have. What of him?"

"Have you any influence with him?"

"Not compared with yours."

The Bonnie Lassie made a little gesture of despair. "I can't find him.

And Annie Oombrella won't tell me where he is. She only cries."

"That's bad. You think he-he is-"

"Why don't you say it outright, Dominie? You think he's hiding."

"Really!" I expostulated. "You come to me with accusations against the poor fellow and then undertake to make me responsible for them."

"I don't believe it's true at all," averred the Bonnie Lassi

e loyally. "I don't believe Plooie is a coward. There's some reason why he doesn't go over and help! I want to know what it is."

Perceiving that I was expected to provide excuses for the erring one, I did my best. "Over age," I suggested.

"He's only thirty-two."

"Bless me! He looks sixty. Well-physical infirmity."

"He can carry a load all day."

"He won't leave Annie Oombrella, then. Or perhaps she won't let him."

"When I asked her, she cried harder than ever and said that her mother was French and she would go and fight herself, if they'd have her."

"Then I give it up. What does your Olympian wisdom make of it?"

"I don't know. But I'm afraid the Garins are going to have trouble."

Within a few days Plooie reappeared and his strident falsetto appeal for trade rang shrill in the space of Our Square. Trouble developed at once. Small boys booed at him, called him "yellow," and advised him to go carefully, there was a German behind the next tree. Henri Dumain, our little old French David who fought the tragic duel of tooth and claw with his German Jonathan in Thornsen's élite Restaurant, stung him with that most insulting word in any known tongue-"Lache!"-and threatened him with uplifted cane; and poor Plooie slunk away. But I think it was the fact that he who stayed at home when others went forward had set a picture of Albert of Belgium in the window of his cubbyhole that most exasperated us against him. Tactless, to say the least! His call grew quavery and furtive. Annie Oombrella ceased to sing at work. Matters looked ill for the Garins.

The evil came to a head the week after David and Jonathan broke off all relations. Perhaps that tragedy of shattered friendship (afterward rejoined through the agency of the great peacemaker, Death) had got on our nerves. Ordinarily, had Plooie chased a small boy who had tipped a barrel down his basement steps, nothing would have come of it. But the chase took him into the midst of a group of the younger and more boisterous element, returning from a business meeting of the Gentlemen's Sons of Avenue B, and before he could turn, they had surrounded him.

"Here's our little 'ee-ro!" "Looka the Frenchy that won't fight!"

"Safety first, hey, Plooie?" "Charge umbrellas-backward, march!"

Plooie did his best to break for a run through, which was the worst thing he could have tried. They collared him. By that contact he became their captive, their prey. What to do with him? To loose a prisoner, once in the hand, is an unthinkable anti-climax. Somebody developed an inspirational thought: "Ride him on a rail!"

Near by, a house front under repair supplied a scantling. Plooie was hustled upon it. He fell off. They jammed him back again. He clung, wide-eyed, white-faced, and silent. The mob, for it was that now, bore him with jeers and jokes and ribaldry along the edge of the park.

When they came within my ken he was riding high, and the mob was being augmented momentarily from every quarter. I looked about for Terry the Cop. But Terry was elsewhere. It is not beyond the bounds of reasonable probability that he had absented himself on purpose. "God hates a coward" is a tenet of Terry's creed. I confess to a certain sympathy with it myself. After all, a harsh lesson might not be amiss for Plooie, the recusant. Composing my soul to a non-intervention policy, I leaned back on my bench, when a pitiful sight ruined my neutrality.

Along the outer edge of the compact mob trotted little Annie Oombrella. From time to time she dashed herself blindly against that human wall, which repulsed her not too roughly and with indulgent laughter. Their concern was not with her. It was with the coward; their prisoner, delivered by fate to the stern decrees of mob justice. I could hear his voice now, calling out to her in their own language across the supervening heads:

"Do not have fear, my little one. They do me no harm. Go you home, little cat. Soon I come also. Do not fear."

From his forehead ran a little stream of blood. But there was that in his face which told me that if he was fearful it was only for her. His voice, steady and piercing, overrode the clamor of the crowd. I began to entertain doubts as to his essential cowardice.

Annie Oombrella, dumb with misery and terror, only dashed herself the more hopelessly against the barrier of bodies.

Even the delight of rail-riding a victim becomes monotonous in time. The many-headed sought further measures of correction and reprobation.

"Le's tar-and-feather him."

"White feathers!"

"Where'll we gettum?"

"Satkins's kosher shop on the Av'noo."

"Where's yer tar?"

This was a poser; Satkins was saved from a raid. A more practical expedient now evolved from the collective brain.

"Duck'm in the fountain!"

"Drown him in the fountain!" amended an enthusiast.

Whooping with delight, the mob turned toward the gate. This was becoming dangerous. That there was no real intent to drown the unfortunate umbrella-mender I was well satisfied. But mob intent is subject to mob impulse. If they once got him into the water, the temptation of the playful to push his head under just once more might be too strong. Plainly the time was ripe for intervention.

Owing to some enthusiastically concerted but ill-directed engineering, the scantling with its human burden had jammed crosswise of the posts. Now, if ever, was the opportunity for eloquence of dissuasion.

For the heroic r?le of Horatius at the Bridge I am ill-fitted both by temperament and the fullness of years. Nevertheless, I advanced into the imminent deadly breach and raised the appeal to reason.

The result was unsatisfactory. Some hooted. Others laughed.

"Never mind the Dominie," yelled Inky Mike, laying hold of the rail by an end and hauling it around. "He don't mean nothin'."

Old bones are no match for young barbarism. The rush through the gate brushed me aside like a feather. I saw the tragi-comic parade go by, as I leaned against a supporting tree: the advance guard of clamorous urchins, the rail-bearers, the white-faced figure of Plooie, jolted aloft, bleeding but calm, self-forgetful, and still calling out reassurances to his wife; the jostling rabble, and upon the edge of it a frantic woman, clawing, sobbing, imploring. On they swept. I listened for the splash.

It did not come.

A lion had risen in the path. To be more accurate, a lioness. To my unsuccessful r?le of Horatius, a Horatia better fitted for the fray had succeeded, in the austere and superb person of Madame Rachel Pinckney Pemberton Tallafferr, aforetime of the sovereign State of Virginia.

Where all my eloquence had failed, she checked that joyously anticipative rabble by the simple query, set in the chillest and most peremptory of aristocratic tones, as to what they were doing.

I like to think-the Bonnie Lassie says that I am flattering myself thereby-that it was the momentary halt caused by my abortive effort to hold the gate, which gave time for a greater than my humble self to intervene.

Madame Tallafferr, in the glory of black silk, the Pinckney lace, the

Pemberton diamond, and accompanied by that fat relic of slavery, Black

Sally, had been taking the air genteelly on a bench when the disturbance

grated upon her sensitive ear.

"What is that rabble about, Sally?" she inquired.

The aged negress reconnoitered. "Reckon dey's ridin' a gentmun on a rail," she reported.

"A gentleman, Sally? Impossible. No gentleman would endure such an affront. Look again."

"Yessum. It's dat po' white trash dey call Plooie. Mainded yo' umbrella oncet."

"My umbrella-mender!" (The mere fact that the victim had once tinkered for her a decrepit parasol entitled him in her feudal mind to the high protection of the Tallafferr tradition.) "Tell them to desist at once."

Apologetically but shrewdly Sally opined that the neighborhood of the advancing mob was "no place foh a niggah."

With perfect faith in the powers of her superior she added: "You desist 'em, mist'ess."

Sally's confidence in her mistress was equaled or perhaps even excelled by her mistress's confidence in herself.

Leaning upon her cane and attended by the faithful though terrified servitor, Madame Tallafferr rustled forward. She took her stand upon the brink of the fountain in almost the exact spot where she had disarmed MacLachan, the tailor, drunk, songful, and suicidal, two years before. Since that feat an almost mythologic awe had attached itself to her locally.

She waited, small and thin, hawk-eyed, imperious, and tempered like steel. The ring of tempered steel, too, was in her voice when, at the proper moment, she raised it.

"What are you doing?"

The clamor of the mob died down. The sight of Horatia (I beg her pardon humbly, Madame Tallafferr) in the path smote them with misgivings. As in Macaulay's immortal, if somewhat jingly epic, "those behind cried 'Forward' and those before cried 'Back'!" That single hale and fiery old lady held them. No more could those two hundred ruffians have defied the challenge of her contemptuous eyes than they could have advanced into the flaming doors of a furnace.

A cautious voice from the rear inquired: "Who's the dame?"

"She's a witch," conjectured some one.

"It's the Duchess," said another, giving her the local title of veneration.

"It's the lady that shot the tailor," proclaimed an awe-stricken bystander. (Legend takes strange twists in Our Square as elsewhere.) Some outlander, ignorant of our traditions, prescribed in a malevolent squeak:

"T'row 'er in the drink."

"Who spoke?" said Madame Tallafferr, crisp and clear.

Silence. Then the sound of objurgations as the advocate frantically resisted well-meant efforts to thrust him into undesirable prominence. Finally a miniature eruption outward from the mob's edge, followed by a glimpse of a shadowy figure departing at full speed. The Duchess leveled a bony finger at Inky Mike, the nearest figure personally known to her, who began a series of contortions suggestive of a desire to crawl into his own pocket.

"Michael," said the Duchess.

"Yessum," said Inky Mike, whose name happens to be Moe Sapperstein.

"What are you doing to that unfortunate person?"

"J-j-just a little j-j-joke," replied the other in what was doubtless intended for a light-hearted and care-free tone.

"Let him down." Inky Mike hesitated. "At once!" snapped the Duchess and stamped her foot.

"Yessum," said Inky Mike meekly.

Loosing his hold on the scantling, he retreated upon the feet of those behind. They let go also. Plooie slid forward to the ground. Madame Tallafferr's bony finger (backed by the sparkle of an authoritative diamond) swept slowly around a half-circle, with very much the easy and significant motion of a machine gun and something of the effect. A subtle suggestion of limpness manifested itself in the mass before her. Addressing them, she raised her voice not a whit. She had no need to.

"Go about your business," she said. "Rabble!" she added in precisely the tone which one might expect of a well-bred but particularly deadly snake.

The mob wilted to a purposeless and abashed crowd. The crowd disintegrated into individuals. The individuals asked themselves what they were doing there, and, finding no sufficient answer, slunk away. Plooie was triumphantly escorted by Madame Tallafferr and Black Sally, and (less triumphantly) by my limping self, to the nearest haven, which chanced to be the Bonnie Lassie's house. Annie Oombrella pattered along beside him, fumbling his hand and trying not to cry.

But when the Bonnie Lassie saw the melancholy wreck, she cried, as much from fury as from pity, and said that men were brutes and bullies and cowards and imbeciles-and why hadn't her Cyrus been at home to stop it? Whereto Madame Tallafferr complacently responded that Mr. Cyrus Staten had not been needed: the canaille would always respect a proper show of authority from its superiors; and so went home, rustling and sparkling.

After all, Plooie was not much hurt. Perhaps more frightened than anything else. Panic was, in fact, the reason generally ascribed in Our Square for his quiet departure, with his Annie, of course, on the following Sunday. Only the Bonnie Lassie dissented. But as the Bonnie Lassie reasons with her heart instead of her head, we accept her theories with habitual and smiling indulgence rather than respect-until the facts bear them out. She had, it appeared, called on the Plooies to inquire as to their proposed course, and had rather more than hinted that if the head of the house wished to respond to his country's call, Our Square would look after Annie Oombrella. To this he returned only a stubborn and somber silence. The Bonnie Lassie said afterward that he seemed ashamed. She added that he had left good-bye for me and hoped the Dominie would not think too hard of him. Recalling that I had rather markedly failed to acknowledge his salute on the morning before his departure, I felt a qualm of misgiving. After all, judging your neighbor's soul is a kittle business. There is such an insufficiency of data.

So Schepstein lost a renter. The basement cubbyhole remained vacant, with only the picture of Albert of the Kingdom of Sorrows in the window as a memento. Nothing further was seen or heard of Plooie. But Schepstein, wandering far afield in search of tenement sales a full year after, encountered Annie Oombrella washing down the steps of an office far over in Lewis Street, nearly to the river. All the plumpness which she had taken on in the happy days was gone. She looked wistful and haggard.

Schepstein, doing the polite (which, as he accurately states, costs nothing and might get you something some time), asked after Plooie. Where was he? Annie Oombrella shook her head.

"Left you, has he?" asked Schepstein, astonished at this evidence of iniquity.

"Yes," said Annie Oombrella. But there was a ring in her voice that Schepstein failed to understand. It sounded almost like defiance. Her eyes were deep-hollowed and sorrowful, but they met his as squarely as they could, considering their cast. Schepstein was quite shocked to observe that there was no shame in them. I suppose the shock temporarily unbalanced his principles, for, having caught sight of one of her shoes, he offered to lend her three dollars, indefinitely and without interest, on her bare note-of-hand. (When he saw the other shoe, he made it five.) She looked at the money anxiously, but shook her head.

"Well, if you ever need a home, the basement's vacant and there ain't a better basement in Our Square."

Annie Oombrella began to cry quietly, and Schepstein went on about his business.

Through the ensuing years many women cried quietly or vehemently, according to their natures, and many men went away from places that had known them, to be no more known of those places; and the little Kingdom of Sorrows, shattered, blood-soaked, and unconquerable, stood fast, a bulwark between the ravager of the world and his victory until there sped across the death-haunted seas the army that was to turn the scales. Our Square gave to that sacrifice what it can never recover: witness the simple memorials in Our Square.

Many people see ghosts; Our Square is well haunted, as befits its ancient and diminished glories. Few hear ghosts. This is as it ought to be. In their very nature, ghosts should be seen, not heard. Yet, in the year of grace, 1919, under a blazing September sun, with a cicada, vagrant from heaven knows whence, frying his sizzling sausages in our lilac bush, and other equally insistent sounds of reality filling the air, my ears were smitten with a voice from the realm of wraiths.

"Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees," it cried on a faint and cluttering note.

"Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees à raccommoder."

Over in the far corner of the park an apparition moved into my visual range. It looked like Plooie. It moved like Plooie. It was loaded like Plooie. It opened a mouth like Plooie's and emitted again the familiar though diminished falsetto shriek. No doubt of it now; it was Plooie. He had come back to us who never thought to see him again, who never wished to see him again, still unpurged of his stigma.

As he passed me, I acknowledged his greeting, somewhat stiffly, I fear, and walked over to Schepstein's. There in the basement, amid the familiar wreckage as of a thousand umbrellas, sat little Annie.

"Bonjour, Dominie," said she wistfully.

"Good-morning, Annie. So you are back."

"Yes, Dominie. Is there need that one wash the step at your house?"

"There is need that one explain one's self. What have you been doing these three years?"

"I work. I work hard."

"And your husband? What has he been doing?" I asked sternly.

Annie Oombrella's soft face drooped. "Soyez gentil, Dominie," she implored. "Be a kind, good man and ask him not. That make him so triste-so sad."

"He doesn't look well, Annie."

"He have been ver' seeck. Now we come home he is already weller."

"But do you think it is wise for you to come back here?" I demanded, feeling brutal as I put the question. Annie Oombrella's reply did not make me feel any less so. She sent a quivering look around that unspeakably messy, choked-up little hole in the wall that was home to Plooie and her.

"We have loved each other so much here," said she.

Our Square is too poor to be enduringly uncharitable, either in deed or thought. War's resentments died out quickly in us. No longer was Plooie in danger of mob violence. By common consent we let him alone; he made his rounds unmolested, but also unpatronized. But for Annie Oombrella's prodigies of industry with pail and brush, the little couple in Schepstein's basement would have fared ill.

Annie earned for both. In the process, happiness came back to her face.

To the fat Rosser twin accrues the credit of a pleasurable discovery about Plooie. This was that, if you sneaked softly up behind him and shouted: "Hey, Plooie! What was you doing in the war?" his jaw would drop and his whole rackety body begin to quiver, and he would heave his burden to his shoulder and break into a spavined gallop, muttering and sobbing like one demented. As the juvenile sense of humor is highly developed in Our Square, Plooie got a good deal of exercise, first and last.

Eventually he foiled them by coming out only in school hours. This didn't help his trade. But then his trade had dwindled to the vanishing point anyway. Even Madame Tallafferr had dropped him. She preferred not to deal with a poltroon, as she put it.

On the day of the great exodus, Plooie put in some extra hours. He was in no danger from his youthful persecutors, because they had all gone up to line Fifth Avenue and help cheer the visiting King of the Belgians. So had such of the rest of Our Square as were not at work. The place was practically deserted. Nevertheless, Plooie prowled about, uttering his cracked and lugubrious cry in the forlorn hope of picking up a parapluie to raccommode. I was one of the few left to hear him, because Mendel, the jeweler, had most inconsiderately gone to view royalty, leaving my unrepaired glasses locked in his shop; otherwise I, too, would have been on the Fifth Avenue curb shouting with the best of them. Do not misinterpret me. For the divinity that doth hedge a king I care as little as one should whose forbears fought in the Revolution. But for the divinity of high courage and devotion that certifies to the image of God within man, I should have been proud to take off my old but still glossy silk hat to Albert of the Belgians. So I was rather cross, and it was well for my equanimity that the Bonnie Lassie, who had remained at home for reasons which are peculiarly her own affair and that of Cyrus the Gaunt, should have come over to my favorite bench to cheer me up. Said the Bonnie Lassie:

"I wonder why Plooie didn't go to see his king."

"Sense of shame," I suggested acidly.

"Yes?" said the Bonnie Lassie in a tone which I mistrusted.

"It is no use," I assured her, "for you to favor me with that pitying and contemptuous smile of yours, for I can't see it. Mendel has my nearer range of vision locked in his shop."

"I was just thinking," said the Bonnie Lassie in ruminant accents, "how nice it must be to look back on a long life of unspotted correctness with not an item in it to be ashamed of. It gives one such a comfortable basis for sitting in judgment."

"Her lips drip honey," I observed, "and the poison of asps is under her tongue."

"Your quotations are fatally mixed," retorted my companion.

From across the park sounded Plooie's patient falsetto: "Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees! Annie Oombrella for mend? Parapluie-ee-ee-" The call broke off in a kind of choke.

"What's happened to Plooie?" I asked. "The youngsters can't have got back from the parade already, have they?"

"A very tall man has stopped him," said the Bonnie Lassie. "Plooie has dropped his kit…. He's trying to salute…. It must be one of the Belgian officers…. Oh, Dominie!"

"Well, what?" I demanded impatiently and cursed the recreant Mendel in my heart.

"It can't be … you don't think they can be arresting poor Plooie at this late day for evading service?"

"Serve him right if they did," said I.

"I believe they are. The big man has taken him by the arm and is leading him along. Poor Plooie! He's all wilted down. It's a shame!" cried the Bonnie Lassie, beginning to flame. "It ought not to be allowed."

"Probably they're taking him away. Do you see an official-looking automobile anywhere about?"

"There's a strange car over on the Avenue. Oh, dear! Poor Annie

Oombrella! But-but they're not going there. They're going into

Schepstein's basement."

I could feel the Bonnie Lassie fidgeting on the bench. For a moment I endured it. Then I said:

"Well, Lassie, why don't you?"

"Why don't I what?"

"Take your usual constitutional, over by the railings. Opposite

Schepstein's."

"That isn't my usual constitutional, and you know it, Dominie," said the

Bonnie Lassie with dignity.

"Isn't it? Well, curiosity killed a cat, you know."

"How shamelessly you garble! It was-"

"Never mind; the quotation is erroneous, anyway. It should be: suppressed curiosity killed a cat."

The Bonnie Lassie sniffed.

"Rather than be dislodged from my precarious perch on this bench," I pursued, "through the trembling imparted to it by your clinging to the back to restrain yourself from going to see what is up, I should almost prefer that you would go-and peek."

"Dominie," said the Bonnie Lassie, "you are a despicable old man….

I'll be back in a minute."

"Don't stay long," I pleaded. "Pity the blind."

Her golden laughter floated back to me. But there was no mirth in her voice when she returned.

"It's so dark in there I can hardly see. But the big man is sitting on a pile of ribs talking to Plooie, and Annie Oombrella's face is all swollen with crying. I saw it in the window for a minute."

Pro and con we argued what the probable event might be and how we could best meet it. So intent upon our discussion did we become that we did not note the approach of a stranger until he was within a few paces of the bench. With my crippled vision I apprehended him only as very tall and straight and wearing a loose cape. The effect upon the Bonnie Lassie of his approach was surprising. I heard her give a little gasp. She got up from the bench. Her hand fell upon my shoulder. It was trembling. Where, I wondered, had those two met and in what circumstances, that the mere sight of the stranger caused such emotion in the unusually self-controlled wife of Cyrus Staten. The man spoke quickly in a deep and curiously melancholy voice:

"Madame perhaps does me the honor to remember me?"

"I-I-I-" began the Bonnie Lassie.

"The Comte de Tournon. At Trouville we met, was it not? Several years since?"

"Y-yes. Certainly. At Trouville."

(Now I happen to know that the Bonnie Lassie has never been at

Trouville, which did not assuage my suspicions.)

"You are friends of my-countryman, Emile Garin, are you not?" he pursued in his phraseology of extreme precision, with only the faint echo of an accent.

"Who?" I said. "Oh, Plooie, you mean. Friends? Well, acquaintances would be more accurate."

"He tells me that you, Monsieur, befriended him when he had great need of friends. And you, Madame, always. So I have come to thank you."

"You are interested in Plooie?" I asked.

"Plooie?" he repeated doubtfully. I explained to him and he laughed gently. "Profoundly interested," he said. "I have here one of his finest umbrellas which his good wife presented to me. There was also a lady of whom he speaks, a grande dame, of very great authority." For all the sadness of the deep voice, I felt that his eyes were twinkling.

"Madame Tallafferr," supplied the Bonnie Lassie. "She is away on a visit."

"I should like to have met that queller of mobs. She ought to be knighted."

"Knighthood would add nothing to her status," said I, dryly. "She is a Pinckney and a Pemberton besides being a Tallafferr, with two _f_s, two _l_s, and two _r_s."

"Doubtless. I do not comprehend the details of your American orders of merit," said the big sad-voiced man courteously. "But I should have been proud to meet her."

"May I tell her that?" asked the Bonnie Lassie eagerly.

"By all means-when I am gone." Again I felt the smile that must be in the eyes. "But there were others here, not so friendly to the little Garin. That is true, is it not?"

"Yes," said the Bonnie Lassie.

"There is at least a strong suspicion that he is not a deserving case,"

I pointed out defensively.

"Then it is only because he does not explain himself well," returned the

Belgian quickly.

"He does not explain himself at all," I corrected. "Nor does Annie

Oom-his wife."

"Ah? That will clarify itself, perhaps, in time. If you will bear with me, I should like to tell you a little story to be passed on to those who are not his friends. Will you not be seated, Madame?"

The Bonnie Lassie resumed her place on the bench. Standing before us, the big man began to speak. Many times since have I wished that I might have taken down what he said verbatim; so gracious it was, so simple, so straightly the expression of a great and generous personality.

"Emile Garin," he said, "was a son of Belgium. He was poor and his people were little folk of nothing-at-all. Moreover, they were dead. So he came to your great country to make his living. When our enemies invaded my country and the call went out to all sons of Belgium, the little Garin was ashamed because he knew that he was physically unfit for military service. But he tried. He tried everywhere. In the mornings they must sweep him away from our Consul-General's doorsteps here because otherwise he would not-You spoke, Monsieur?"

"Nothing. I only said, 'God forgive us!'"

"Amen," said the narrator gravely. "Everywhere they rejected him as unfit. So he became morbid. He hid himself away. Is it not so?"

"That is why they left Our Square so mysteriously," confirmed the Bonnie

Lassie.

"After that he hung about the docks. He saw his chance and crawled into the hold of a vessel as a stowaway. He starved. It did not matter. He was kicked. It did not matter. He was arrested. It did not matter. Nothing mattered except that he should reach Belgium. And he did reach my country at the darkest hour, the time when Belgium needed every man, no matter who he was. But he could not be a soldier, the little Garin, because he was unable to march. He had weak legs."

At this point the eternal feminine asserted itself in the Bonnie Lassie.

"I told you there was something," she murmured triumphantly.

"Hush!" said I.

"I am glad to find that he had one true defender here," pursued the biographer of Plooie. "Though he could not fight in the ranks there was use for him. There was use for all true sons of Belgium in those black days. He was made driver of a-a charette; I do not know if you have them in your great city?" He paused, and I guessed that the rumble of heavy wheels on the asphalt, heard near by, had come opportunely. "Ah, yes; there is one."

"A dump-cart," supplied the Bonnie Lassie.

"Merci, Madame. A dump-cart. It is perhaps not an evidently glorious thing to drive a dump-cart for one's country-unless one makes it so. But it was the best the little Garin could do. His legs were what you call quaint-I have already told you. He was faithful and hard-working. They helped build roads near the front, the little Garin and his big cart."

"Not precisely safety-first," whispered the Bonnie Lassie to me, maliciously.

"You are interrupting the story," said I with dignity.

"One day he was driving a load of mud through a village street. Here on this side is a hospital. There on that side is another hospital. Down the middle of the road walks an idiot of a sergeant carrying a new type of grenade with which we were experimenting. One moves a little lever-so. One counts; one, two, three, four, five. One throws the grenade, and at the count of ten, all about it is destroyed, for it is of terrible power. The idiot sergeant sets down the grenade in the middle of the road between the two hospitals full of the helplessly wounded. For what? Perhaps to sneeze. Perhaps to light a cigarette. Heaven only knows, for the sergeant has the luck to be killed next day by a German shell, before he can be court-martialed. As he sets down the grenade, the little lever is moved. The sergeant loses his head. He runs, shouting to everybody to run also.

"But the hospitals, they cannot run. And the wounded, they cannot run. They can only be still and wait. In the nearest hospital there is a visitor. A great lady. A great and greatly loved lady." The sad voice deepened and softened.

"I know," whispered the Bonnie Lassie; "I can guess."

"Yes. But the little Garin, approaching on his big dump-cart, does not know. He knows the danger, for he hears the shouts and sees the people escaping. He sees the grenade, too. A man running past him shouts, 'Turn your cart, you fool, and save yourself.' Oh, yes; he can save himself. That is easy. But what of the people in the hospitals? Who can save them? The little Garin thinks hard and swiftly. He drives his big dump-cart over the grenade. He pulls the lever which dumps the mud. The mud buries the grenade; much mud, very soft and heavy. The grenade explodes, nevertheless.

"One mule blows through one hospital, one through another. Everything near is covered with mud. The great lady is thrown to the floor, but she is not hurt. She rises and attends the injured and calms the terrified. The hospitals are saved. It is a glorious thing to have driven a dump-cart for one's country-so."

"But what became of our Plooie?" besought the Bonnie Lassie.

The big man spread his arms in a wide, Gallic gesture. "They looked for him everywhere. No sign. But by and by some one saw a quite large piece of mud on the hospital roof begin to wriggle. The little Garin was that large piece of mud. They brought him down and put him in the hospital which he had saved. For a long time he had shell-shock. Even now he cannot speak of the war without his nerves being affected. When he got out of hospital, he did not seem to know who he was. Or perhaps he did not care. Shell-shock is a strange thing. He went away, and his records were lost in the general confusion. Afterward we sought for him. The great lady wished very much to see him. But we could find nothing except that he had come back to this country. Official inquiry was made here and he was traced to Our Square. So I came to see him. Because he cannot speak for himself and will not allow his wife to tell his story-it is part of the shell-shock which will wear off in time-I came to speak for him."

"Does your-do you do this sort of thing often?" asked the Bonnie Lassie with a queer sort of resonance in her voice.

The big man answered, in a tone which suggested that he was smiling: "One cannot visit all the brave men who suffered for Belgium. But there is a special reason here, the matter of the great and greatly loved lady whom the little Garin saved."

"I see," said the Bonnie Lassie softly.

After the big man had made his adieux, we sat silent for some minutes.

Presently she spoke; there was wonder and something else in her voice.

"Plooie!" she said, and that was all.

"You are crying," I said.

"I'm not," she retorted indignantly. "But you ought to be. For your injustice."

"If we all bewept our injustices," said I oracularly, "Noah would have to come back and build a new ark for a bigger flood than his."

"What do you think of him?" said the Bonnie Lassie.

"As a weather-prophet, he was unequaled. As an expert animal-breeder, his selections were at times ill-advised."

"Don't be tiresome, Dominie. You know that I'm not interested in Noah."

"As to our romantic visitant," I said, "I think that Cyrus the Gaunt would better be watchful. I've never known anyone else except Cyrus to produce such an emotional effect upon you."

"Don't be school-girlish!" admonished the Bonnie Lassie severely. "Poor old Dominie! He doesn't know what's going on under his very nose. Where are your eyes?"

"In Mendel's top drawer, I suppose…. The question is how are we going to make it up to Plooie?"

"I don't think you need worry about that," returned the Bonnie Lassie loftily.

Nor was there any occasion for worry. Two days later there occurred an irruption of dismaying young men with casual squares of paper in their pockets, upon which they scratched brief notes. They were, I was subsequently given to understand, the pick and flower of the city's reportorial genius. (I could imagine the ghost of Inky Mike with his important notebook and high-poised pencil, regarding with wonder and disdain their quiet and unimpressive methods.) A freshly painted sign across the front of Plooie's basement, was the magnet that drew them:

Emile Garin & Wife

Umbrella Mender & Porch Cleanser

to

His Majesty

The King of the Belgians

(By Royal Warranty)

No; Plooie and Annie Oombrella need no help from the humble now. Their well-deserved fortune is made.

TRIUMPH

The months go by-bleak March and May-day heat-

Harvest is over-winter well-nigh done-

And still I say, "To-morrow we shall meet."

MAY PROBYN

The Little Red Doctor sat on the far end of my bench. Snow fringed the bristling curve of his mustache. He shivered.

"Dominie," said he, "it's a wild day."

I assented.

"Dominie," said the Little Red Doctor, "it is no kind of a day for an old man to be sitting on a bench."

I dissented.

"Dominie," persisted the Little Red Doctor, "you can't deny that you're old."

"Whose fault is that but yours?" I retorted.

"Don't try to flatter me," said the Little Red Doctor. "You'd have licked my old friend, Death, in that bout you had with him, without any help of mine. And, anyway, you were already old, then. You're a tough old bird, Dominie. Otherwise you wouldn't be sitting here in a March blizzard staring at the Worth mansion and wondering what really happened there three years ago."

"Your old friend, Death, beat you that time," said I maliciously.

The Little Red Doctor chose to ignore my taunt. "Look your fill,

Dominie," he advised. "You won't have much more chance."

"Why?" I asked, startled.

"The wreckers begin on it next month. Also a nice, new building is going up next door to it on that little, secret, walled jungle that Ely Crouch used to misname his garden. I'm glad of it, too. I don't like anachronisms."

"I'm an anachronism," I returned. "You'll be one pretty soon. Our Square is one solid anachronism."

"It won't be much longer. The tide is undermining us. Other houses will go as the Worth place is going. You'll miss it, Dominie. You love houses as if they were people."

It is true. To me houses are the only fabrications of man's hands that are personalities. Enterprise builds the factory, Greed the tenement, but Love alone builds the house, and by Love alone is it maintained against the city's relentless encroachments. Once hallowed by habitation, what warm and vivid influences impregnate it! Ambition, pride, hope, joys happily shared; suffering, sorrow, and loss bravely endured-the walls outlive them all, gathering with age, from grief and joy alike, kind memories and stanch traditions. Yes, I love the old houses. Yet I should not be sorry to see the Worth mansion razed. It has outlived all the lives that once cherished it and become a dead, unhuman thing.

That solid square of brown, gray-trimmed stone had grown old honorably with the honorable generations of the Worths. Then it had died. In one smiting stroke of tragedy the life had gone out of it. Now it stood staring bleakly out from its corner with filmed eyes, across the busy square. Passing its closed gates daily, I was always sensible of a qualm of the spirit, a daunting prescience that the stilled mansion still harbored the ghost of an unlaid secret.

The Little Red Doctor broke in upon my reverie.

"Yes; you're old, Dominie. But you're not wise. You're very foolish.

Foolish and obstinate."

Knowing well what he meant, I nevertheless pampered him by asking: "Why am I foolish and obstinate?"

"Because you refuse to believe that Ned Worth murdered Ely Crouch. Don't you?"

"I do."

"Then why did Ned commit suicide?"

"I don't know."

"How do you explain away his written confession?"

"I don't. I only know that it was not in Ned Worth's character willfully to kill an old man. You were his friend; you ought to know it as well as I do."

"Ah, that's different," said the Little Red Doctor, giving me one of his queer looks. "Yes; you're a pig-headed old man, Dominie."

"I'm a believer in character."

"I don't know of any other man equally pig-headed, except possibly one.

He's old, too."

"Gale Sheldon," said I, naming the gentle, withered librarian of a branch library a few blocks to the westward, the only other resident of Our Square who had unfailingly supported me in my loyalty to the memory of the last of the Worths.

"Yes. He's waiting for us now in his rooms. Will you come?"

Perceiving that there was something back of this-there usually is, in the Little Red Doctor's maneuvers-I rose and we set out. As we passed the Worth house it seemed grimmer and bleaker than ever before. There was something savage and desperate in its desolation. The cold curse of abandonment lay upon it. At the turn of the corner the Little Red Doctor said abruptly.

"She's dead."

"Who?" I demanded.

"The girl. The woman in the case."

"In the Ely Crouch case? A woman? There was never any woman hinted at."

"No. And there never would have been as long as she was alive. Now-Well, I'll leave Sheldon to explain her. He loved her, too, in his way."

In Gale Sheldon's big, still room, crowded with the friendly ghosts of mighty books, a clear fire was burning. One shaded lamp at the desk was turned on, for though it was afternoon the blizzard cast a gloom like dusk. The Little Red Doctor retired to a far corner where he was all but merged in the shadows.

"Have you seen this?" Sheldon asked me, pointing to the table.

Thereon was spread strange literature for the scholarly taste of our local book-worm, a section from the most sensational of New York's Sunday newspapers. From the front page, surrounded by a barbarous conglomeration of headlines and uproarious type, there smiled happily forth a face of such appealing loveliness as no journalistic vulgarity could taint or profane. I recognized it at once, as any one must have done who had ever seen the unforgettable original. It was Virginia Kingsley, who, two years before, had been Sheldon's assistant. The picture was labeled, "Death Ends Wanderlust of Mysterious Heiress," and the article was couched in a like style of curiosity-piquing sensationalism. Stripped of its fulsome verbiage, it told of the girl's recent death in Italy, after traveling about Europe with an invalid sister; during which progress, the article gloated, she was "vainly wooed by the Old World's proudest nobility for her beauty and wealth," the latter having been unexpectedly left her by an aged relative. Her inexorable refusals were set down, by the romantic journalist, as due to some secret and prior attachment. (He termed it an "affair de court"!)

Out of the welter of words there stood forth one sentence to tempt the imagination: "She met death as a tryst." For that brief flash the reporter had been lifted out of his bathos and tawdriness into a clearer element. One could well believe that she had "met death as a tryst." For if ever I have beheld unfaltering hope and unflagging courage glorified and spiritualized into unearthly beauty, it was there in that pictured face, fixed by the imperishable magic of the camera.

"No; I hadn't seen it," I said after reading. "Is it true?"

"In part." Then, after a pause, "You knew her, didn't you, Dominie?"

"Only by sight. She had special charge of the poetry alcove, hadn't she?"

"Yes. She belonged there of right. She was the soul and fragrance of all that the singers of springtime and youth have sung." He sighed, shaking his grizzled head mournfully. "'And all that glory now lies dimmed in death.' It doesn't seem believable."

He rose and went to the window. Through the whorls of snow could be vaguely seen the outlines of the Worth house, looming on its corner. He stared at it musing.

"I've often wondered if she cared for him," he murmured.

"For him? For Worth!" I exclaimed in amazement. "Were they friends?"

"Hardly more than acquaintances, I thought. But she left very strangely the day of his death and never came back."

From the physician's corner there came an indeterminate grunt.

"If that is a request for further information, Doctor, I can say that on the few occasions when they met here in the library, it was only in the line of her duties. He was interested in the twentieth-century poets. But even that interest died out. It was months before the-the tragedy that he stopped coming to the Library."

"It was months before the tragedy that he stopped going anywhere, wasn't it?" I asked.

"Yes. Nobody understood it; least of all, his friends. I even heard it hinted that he was suffering from some malady of the brain." He turned inquiringly to the far, dim corner.

Out of it the Little Red Doctor barked: "Death had him by the throat."

"Death? In what form?"

"Slow, sure fingers, shutting off his breath. Do you need further details or will the dry, scientific term, epithelioma, be enough?" The voice came grim out of the gloom. No answer being returned, it continued: "I've had easier jobs than telling Ned Worth. It was hopeless from the first. My old friend, Death, had too long a start on me."

"Was it something that affected his mind?"

"No. His mind was perfectly clear. Vividly clear. May I take my last verdict, when it comes, with a spirit as clear and as noble."

Silence fell, and in the stillness we heard the Little Red Doctor communing with memories. Now and then came a muttered word. "Suicide!" in a snarl of scornful rejection. "Fool-made definitions!" Presently, "Story for a romancer, not a physician." He seemed to be canvassing an inadequacy in himself with dissatisfaction. Then, more clearly: "Love from the first. At a glance, perhaps. The contagion of flame for powder. But in that abyss together they saw each other's soul."

"The Little Red Doctor is turning poet," said Sheldon to me in an incredulous whisper.

There was the snap and crackle of a match from the shadowed corner. The keen, gnarled young face sprang from the darkness, vivid and softened with a strange triumph, then receded behind an imperfect circle, clouded the next instant by a nimbus of smoke. The Little Red Doctor spoke.

Ned Worth was my friend as well as my patient. No need to tell you men, who knew him, why I was fond of him. I don't suppose any one ever came in contact with that fantastic and smiling humanity of his without loving him for it. "Immortal hilarity!" The phrase might have been coined for him.

It wasn't as physician that I went home with Ned, after pronouncing sentence upon him, but as friend. I didn't want him to be alone that first night. Yet I dare say that any one, seeing the two of us, would have thought me the one who had heard his life-limit defined. He was as steady as a rock.

"No danger of my being a miser of life," he said. "You've given me leave to spend freely what's left of it." Well, he spent. Freely and splendidly!

The spacious old library on the second floor-you know it, Dominie, smelt of disuse, as we entered, Ned's servant bringing up the rear with a handbag. Dust had settled down like an army of occupation over everything. The furniture was shrouded in denim. The tall clock in the corner stood voiceless. Three months of desertion will change any house into a tomb. And the Worth mansion was never too cheerful, anyway. Since the others of the family died, Ned hadn't stayed there long enough at a time to humanize it.

Ned's man set down the grip, unstrapped it, took his orders for some late purchases, and left to execute them. I went over to open the two deep-set windows on the farther side of the room. It was a still, close October night, and the late scent of warmed-over earth came up to me out of Ely Crouch's garden next door. From where I stood in the broad embrasure of the south window, I was concealed from the room. But I could see everything through a tiny gap in the hangings. Ned sat at his desk sorting some papers. A sort of stern intentness had settled upon his face, without marring its curious faun-like beauty. I carry the picture in my mind.

"What's become of you, Chris?" he demanded presently. I came out into the main part of the room. "Oh, there you are! You'll look after a few little matters for me, won't you?" He indicated a sheaf of papers.

"You needn't be in such a hurry," said I with illogical resentment. "It isn't going to be to-morrow or next week."

"Isn't it?" Something in his tone made me look at him sharply. "Six months or three months or to-morrow," he added, more lightly; "what does it matter as long as it's sure! You know, what I appreciate is that you gave me the truth straight."

"It's a luxury few of my patients get. Their constitutions won't stand it."

"It's a compliment to my nerve. Strangely enough I don't feel nervous about it."

"I do. Damnably! About something, anyway. There's something wrong with this room, Ned. What is it?"

"Don't you know?" he laughed. "It's the sepulchral silence of Old Grandfather Clock, over there. You're looking right at him and wondering subconsciously why he doesn't make a noise like Time."

"That's easily remedied." Consulting my watch I set and wound the ancient timepiece. Its comfortable iteration made the place at once more livable. Immediately it struck the hour.

"Ten o'clock," I said, and parted the draperies at the lower window to look out again. "Ten o'clock of a still, cloudy night and-and the devil is on a prowl in his garden."

"Meaning my highly respected neighbor and ornament to the local bar, the

Honorable Ely Crouch?"

"Exactly. Preceded by a familiar spirit in animal form."

"Oh, that's his pet ferret and boon companion."

"Not his only companion. There's some one with him," I said. "A woman."

"I don't admire her taste in romance," said Ned.

"Nor her discretion. You know what they say: 'A dollar or a woman never safe alone with Ely Crouch.'"

"My dollars certainly weren't," observed Ned.

"How did he ever defend your suit for an accounting?" I asked.

"Heedlessness on my side, a crooked judge on his. Stop spying on my neighbor's flirtations and look here."

I turned and got a shock. The handbag lay open on the desk, surrounded by a respectable-sized fortune in bank-notes.

"Pretty much all that the Honorable Ely has left me," he added.

"Is it enough to go on with, Ned?" I asked.

He smiled at me. "Plenty for my time. You forget."

For the moment I had forgotten. "But what on earth are you going to do with all that ready cash?"

"Carry out a brilliant idea. I conceived it after you had handed down your verdict. Went around to the bank and quietly drew out the lot. I've planned a wild and original orgy. A riot of dissipation in giving. Think of the fun one can have with that much tangible money. Already to-day I've struck one man dumb and reduced another to mental decay, by the simple medium of a thousand-dollar bill. Miracles! Declare a vacation, Chris, and come with me on my secret and jubilant bat, and we'll work wonders."

"And after?" I asked.

"Oh, after! Well, there'll be no further reason for the 'permanent possibility of sensation' on my part. That's your precious science's best definition of life, I believe. It doesn't appeal to one as alluring when the sensation promises to become-well, increasingly unpleasant."

There was no mistaking his meaning. "I can't have that, my son," I protested.

"No? That's a purely professional prejudice of yours. Look at it from my point of view. Am I to wait to be strangled by invisible hands, rather than make an easy and graceful exit? Suicide! The word has no meaning for a man in my condition. If you'll tell me there's a chance, one mere, remote human chance-" He paused, turning to me with what was almost appeal in his glance. How I longed to lie to him! But Ned Worth was the kind that you can't lie to. I looked at him standing there so strong and fine, with all the mirthful zest of living in his veins, sentenced beyond hope, and I thought of those terrible lines of another man under doom:

"I never saw a man who looked

So wistfully at the day."

We medical men learn to throw a protective film over our feelings, like the veil over the eagle's eye. We have to. But I give you my word, I could not trust my voice to answer him.

"You see," he said; "you can't." His hand fell on my arm. "I'm sorry, Chris," he said in that winning voice of his; "I shouldn't plague you for something that you can't give me."

"I can tell you this, anyway," said I: "that it's something less than courage to give up until the time comes. You didn't give your life. You haven't the right to take it; anyway, not until its last usefulness is over."

He made a movement of impatience.

"Oh, I'm not asking you to endure torture. I'd release you myself from that, if it comes to it, in spite of man-made laws. But how can you tell that being alive instead of dead next week or next month may not make an eternal difference to some other life? Your part isn't played out yet. Who are you to say how much good you may yet do before the curtain is rung down?"

"Or how much evil! Well, as a suitable finish, suppose I go down into that garden and kill Ely Crouch," he suggested, smiling. "That would be a beneficial enough act to entitle me to a prompt and peaceful death, wouldn't it?"

"Theoretically sound, but unfortunately impracticable," I answered, relieved at his change of tone.

"I suppose it is." He looked at me, still smiling, but intent. "Chris, what do you believe comes after?"

"Justice."

"A hard word for cowards. What do I believe, I wonder? At any rate, in being sport enough to play the game through. You're right, old hard-shell. I'll stick it out. It will only mean spending this"-he swept the money back into its repository-"a little more slowly."

"I was sure I could count on you," I said. "Now I can give you the talisman." I set on the desk before him a small pasteboard box. "Pay strict attention. You see that label? That's to remind you. One tablet if you can't sleep."

"I couldn't last night."

"Two if the pain becomes more than you can stand."

He nodded.

"But three at one time and you'll sleep so sound that nothing will ever awaken you."

"Good old Chris!" Opening the box, he fingered the pellets curiously. "A blessed thing, your science! Three and the sure sleep."

"On trust, Ned."

"On honor," he agreed. "Then I mustn't expunge old Crouch? It's a disappointment," he added gayly.

He pushed the box away from him and crossed over to the upper window.

His voice came to me from behind the enshrouding curtains.

"Our friend has finished his promenade. The air is the sweeter for it.

I'll stay here and breathe it."

"Good!" said I. "I've five minutes of telephoning to do. Then I'll be back."

Nobody can ever tell me again that there's an instinct which feels the presence of persons unseen. On my way to the door I passed within arm's-length of a creature tense and pulsating with the most desperate emotions. I could have stretched out a hand and touched her as she crouched, hidden in the embrasure of the lower window. It would seem as if the whole atmosphere of the room must have been surcharged with the terrific passion of her newborn and dreadful hopes. And I felt-nothing. No sense, as I brushed by, of the tragic and concentrated force of will which nerved and restrained her. I went on, and out unconscious. Afterward she was unable to tell me how long she had been there. It must have been for some minutes, for what roused her from her stupor of terror was the word "Suicide." It was like an echo, a mockery to her, at first; and then, as she listened with passionate attention to what followed, my instructions about the poison took on the voice of a ministering providence. The draperies had shut off the view of Ned, nor had she recognized his voice, already altered by the encroachments of the disease. But she heard him walk to the upper window, and saw me pass on my way to the telephone, and knew that the moment had come. From what she told me later, and from that to which I was a mazed witness on my return, I piece together the events which so swiftly followed.

A wind had risen outside or Ned might have heard the footsteps sooner. As it was, when he stepped out from behind the draperies of the upper window those of the lower window were still waving, but the swift figure had almost reached the desk. The face was turned from him. Even in that moment of astonishment he noticed that she carried her left arm close to her body, with a curious awkwardness.

"Hello!" he challenged.

She cried out sharply, and covered the remaining distance with a rush. Her hand fell upon the box of pellets. She turned, clutching that little box of desperate hopes to her bosom.

"Good God! Virginia!" he exclaimed. "Miss Kingsley!"

"Mr. Worth! Was it you I heard? Why-how are you here?"

"This is my house."

"I didn't know." Keeping her eyes fixed upon him like a watchful animal, she slowly backed to interpose the table between herself and a possible interference. Her arm, still stiffly pressed to her side, impeded her fumbling efforts to open the box. Presently, however, the cover yielded.

He measured the chances of intervention, and abandoned the hope. His brain hummed with a thousand conjectures, a thousand questions centering upon her obvious and preposterous purpose. Suddenly, as her fingers trembled among the tablets, his thoughts steadied and his stratagem was formed.

"What do you want with my tonic?" he asked coolly.

"Tonic? I-I thought-"

"You thought it was the poison. Well, you've got the wrong box. The poison box is in the drawer."

"In the drawer," she repeated. She spoke in the mechanical voice of one desperately intent upon holding the mind to some vital project. Her nerveless hands fumbled at the side of the desk.

He crossed quickly, caught up the box which she had just relinquished, and dropped it into his pocket.

"Oh!" she moaned, and stared at him with stricken and accusing eyes.

"Then it was the poison!"

"Yes."

"Give it back to me!" she implored, like a bereft child. "Oh, give it to me!"

"Why do you want to kill yourself?"

She looked at him in dumb despair.

"How did you get here?" he demanded.

"Your fire escape."

"And to that from the garden wall, I suppose? So you were Ely Crouch's companion," he cried with a changed voice.

"Don't," she shuddered, throwing her right arm over her face.

"I beg your pardon," he said gently. "Take a swallow of this water.

What's the matter with your arm? Are you hurt?"

"No." Her eyes would not meet his. They were fixed obstinately upon the pocket into which he had dropped the poison.

"It's incredible!" he burst out. "You with your youth and loveliness! With everything that makes life sweet for yourself and others. What madness-" He broke off and his voice softened into persuasion. "We were almost friends, once. Can't I-won't you let me help? Don't you think you can trust me?"

She raised her eyes to his, and he read in them hopeless terror. "Yes, I could trust you. But there is only one help for me now. And you've taken it from me."

"Who can tell? You've been badly frightened," he said in as soothing a tone as he could command. "Try to believe that no harm can come to you here, and that I-I would give the blood of my heart to save you from harm or danger. You said you could trust me. What was your errand with Ely Crouch?"

"Money."

"Money!" he repeated, drawing back.

"It was our own; my sister's and mine. Mr. Crouch had it. He had managed our affairs since my father's death. I could never get an accounting from him. To-day the doctor told me that Alice must go away at once for an operation. And to-day Mr. Crouch made this appointment for to-night."

"Didn't you know his reputation? Weren't you afraid?"

"I didn't think of fear. When I told him how matters stood, he offered me money, but-but-Oh, I can't tell you!"

"No need," he said quickly. "I know what he is. I was joking when I spoke of killing him, a little while ago. By God, I wish I had killed him! It isn't too late now."

"It is too late."

Her eyes, dilated, were fixed upon his.

"Why? How-too late?" he stammered.

"I killed him."

"You! You-killed-Ely-Crouch?"

"He had a cane," she said, in a hurried, flat, half-whisper. "When he caught at me, I tried to get it to defend myself. The handle pulled out. There was a dagger on it. He came at me again. I didn't realize what I was doing. All I could see was that hateful face drawing nearer. Then it changed and he seemed to dissolve into a hideous heap. I didn't mean to kill him." Her voice rose in the struggle against hysteria. "God knows, I didn't mean to kill him."

"Hush!"

His hands fell on her shoulders and held her against the onset. Energy and resolution quickened in his eyes. "Who knows of your being in the garden?"

"No one."

"Any one see you climb the wall and come here?"

"No."

"Or know that you had an appointment with him?"

"No."

"Will you do exactly as I tell you?"

"What is the use?" she said dully.

"I'm going to get you out of here."

"I should have to face it later. I couldn't face it-the horror and shame of it. I'd rather die a thousand times." She lifted her arms, the coat opened, and the cane-handled blade dropped to the floor, and rolled. She shuddered away from it. "I kept that for myself, but I couldn't do it. It's got his blood on it. When I heard the doctor speak of the poison, it seemed like a miracle of Providence sent to guide me. Oh, give it to me! Is it"-she faltered-"is it quick?"

"Steady!" Stooping he picked up the weapon. "It needn't come to that, if you can play your part. Have you got the courage to walk out of this house and go home to safety? Absolute safety!"

She searched his face in bewilderment. "I-don't know."

"If I give you my word of honor that it depends only on yourself?"

"How?"

"Pull yourself together. Go downstairs quietly. Turn to your left.

You'll see a door. It opens on the street. Walk out with your head up,

and go home. You're as safe as though you'd never seen Ely Crouch.

There's no clue to you."

"No clue! Look down the fire escape!"

He crossed the room at a bound. Beneath him, its evil snout pointed upwards, sat the dead man's familiar spirit.

"Good God! The ferret!"

"It's been sitting there, watching, watching, watching."

"The more reason for haste. Pull yourself together. Forward, march!" he cried, pressing his will upon her.

"But you? When they come what will you say to them?"

"I'll fix up something." He drew back from the window, lowering his voice. "Men in the garden. A policeman."

"They've found him!" She fell into Ned's chair, dropping her head in her hands. For an instant he studied her. Then he took his great and tender resolution. His hand fell warm and firm on her shoulder.

"Listen; suppose they suspect some one else?"

"Who?"

"Me."

"You? Why should they?"

"Circumstances. The place. The weapon here in my possession. My known trouble with Ely Crouch. Don't you see how it all fits in?"

She recovered from the stupor of surprise into which his suggestion had plunged her. "Are you mad? Do you think that I'd let you sacrifice yourself? What am I to you that you should do this for me?"

"The woman I love," he said quietly. "I have loved you from the first day that I saw you."

It was at this moment that I returned and halted at the door, an unwilling witness to the rest, only half understanding, not daring to move. I saw the splendid color mount and glorify her beauty. I saw her hands go out to him half in appeal, half in rejection.

"Oh, it's madness!" she cried. "It's your life you're offering me."

"What else should I offer you-you who have given life its real meaning for me?"

He caught her hands in his and held them. He caught her eyes in his and held them. Then he began speaking, evenly, soothingly, persuasively, binding her to his will.

"What does my life amount to? Think how little it means. A few more weeks of waiting. Then the suffering: then the release. You heard Dr. Smith. You know. You understand. Didn't you understand?"

"Yes," she breathed.

"Then you must see what a splendid way out this is for me. No more waiting. No pain. Death never came to any one so kindly before. It's my chance, if only you'll make it worth while. Will you?" he pleaded.

"Oh, the wonder of it!" she whispered, gazing on him with parted lips. But he did not understand, yet. He pressed what he thought to be his advantage.

"Here," he cried, suddenly dropping her hands and catching up the bills from the valise. "Here's safety. Here's life. For you and your sister, both. You spoke of Providence a moment ago. Here's Providence for you! Quick! Take it."

"What is it?" she asked, drawing away as he sought to thrust the money into her hands.

"Twenty thousand dollars. More. It doesn't matter. It's life for both of you. Have you the right to refuse it? Take it and go."

She let the bank-notes fall from her hands unnoticed.

"Do you think I would leave you now?" she cried in a voice of thrilled music. "Even if they weren't sure to trace me, as they would be."

This last she uttered as an unimportant matter dismissed with indifference.

"There will be nothing to trace. My confession will cover the ground."

"Confession? To what?"

"To the murder of Ely Crouch."

Some sort of sound I was conscious of making. I suppose I gasped. But they were too engrossed to hear.

"You would do even that? But the penalty-the shame-"

"What do they matter to a dying man?" he retorted impatiently.

She had fallen back from him, in the shock of his suggestion, but now she came forward again slowly, her glorious eyes fixed on his. So they stood face to face, soul to soul, deep answering unto deep, and, as I sit here speaking, I saw the wonder and the miracle flower in her face. When she spoke again, her words seemed the inevitable expression of that which had passed silently between them.

"Do you love me?"

"Before God I do," he answered.

"Take me away! There's time yet. I'll go with you anywhere, anywhere! I'm all yours. I've loved you from the first, I think, as you have loved me. All I ask is to live for you, and when you die, to die with you."

Fire flashed from his face at the call. He took a step toward her. A shout, half-muffled, sounded from outside the window. Instantly the light and passion died in his eyes. I have never seen a face at once so stern and so gentle as his was when he caught the outreaching hands in his own.

"You forget that they must find one of us, or it's all no use. Listen carefully, dear one. If you truly love me, you must do as I bid you. Give me my chance of fooling fate; of making my death worth while. It won't be hard." He took the little box from his pocket. "It will be very easy."

"Give it to me, too," she pleaded like a child. "Ah, Ned, we can't part now! Both of us together."

He shook his head, smiling. The man's face was as beautiful as a god's at that moment or an angel's. "You must go back to your sister," he said simply. "You haven't the right to die."

He turned to the table, drew a sheet of paper to him and wrote four words. You all know what they were; his confession. Then his hand went up, a swift movement, and a moment later he was setting back the glass of water upon the desk whence he had taken it.

"Love and glory of my life, will you go?" he said.

"Yes," she whispered.

Not until then did the paralysis, which had gripped me when I saw Ned turn the pellets into his hand, relax. I ran forward. The girl cried out. Ned met me with his hand against my breast.

"How much have you heard?" he said quickly.

"Enough."

"Then you'll understand." His faith was more irresistible than a thousand arguments. "Take her home, Chris."

I held out my hand. "Come," I said.

She turned and faced him. "Must I? Alone?" What a depth of desolation in that word!

"There is no other way, dearest one."

"Good-bye, then, until we meet," she said in the passionate music of her voice. "Every beat of my heart will bring me nearer to you. There will be no other life for me. Soon or late I'll come to you. You believe it. Say you believe it!"

"I believe it." He bent and kissed her lips. Then his form slackened away from the arms that clasped it, and sank into the chair. A policeman's whistle shrilled outside the window. The faintest flicker of a smile passed over the face of the sleeper.

I took her away, still with that unearthly ecstasy on her face.

* * * * *

The glow of the narrator's cigar waxed, a pin-point of light in a world of dimness and mystery. Subdued breathing made our silence rhythmic. When I found my voice, it was hardly more than a whisper.

"Good God! What a tragedy!"

"Tragedy? You think it so?" The Little Red Doctor's gnarled face gleamed strangely behind the tiny radiance. "Dominie, you have a queer notion of this life and little faith in the next."

"'She met death as a tryst,'" murmured the old librarian. "And he! 'Trailing clouds of glory!' The triumph of that victory over fate! One would like to have seen the meeting between them, after the waiting."

The Little Red Doctor rose. "When some brutal and needless tragedy of the sort that we medical men witness so often shakes my faith in my kind, I turn to think of those two in the splendor of their last meeting on earth, the man with the courage to face death, the woman with the courage to face life."

He strode over to the table and lifted the newspaper, which had slipped to the floor unnoticed. The girlish face turned toward us its irresistible appeal, yearning out from amidst the lurid indignities of print.

"You heard from her afterward?" I asked.

"Often. The sister died and left her nothing to live for but her promise. Always in her letters sounded the note of courage and of waiting. It was in the last word I had from her-received since her death-set to the song of some poet, I don't know who. You ought to know, Mr. Sheldon."

His deep voice rose to the rhythm.

"Ah, long-delayed to-morrow! Hearts that beat

Measure the length of every moment gone.

Ever the suns rise tardily or fleet

And light the letters on a churchyard stone.-

And still I say, 'To-morrow we shall meet!'"

"May Probyn," the librarian identified. "Too few people know her. A wonderful poem!"

Silence fell again, folding us and our thoughts in its kindly refuge. Rising, I crossed to the window and drew the curtain aside. A surging wind had swept the sky clear, all but one bank of low-lurking, western cloud shot through with naming crimson. In that luminous setting the ancient house across Our Square, grim and bleak no longer to my eyes, gleamed, through eyes again come to life, with an inconceivable glory. Behind me in the shadow, the measured voice of the witness to life and death repeated once more the message of imperishable hope:

"And still I say, 'To-morrow we shall meet.'"

THE END

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares